Impulse Pictures has once again delved into their archives of seemingly unlimited adult film titles from the 1970s and 1980s for two separate DVD releases: "Farmer's Daughters" and "Snow Honeys". The former film is apparently the most notorious- and for good reason. Released in 1976, "Farmer's Daughter's" is the work of director/writer Zebedy Colt, who made a reputation back in the day for creating some of the most distasteful and shocking hardcore porn feature films. The fact that the bearded, grungy Mr. Colt is seamy enough to make the lunatics on "Duck Dynasty" look like sex symbols did not stop him from placing himself in the leading role, thereby guaranteeing he'd get plenty of "fringe benefits" from the on-screen action. The setting is a remote farm in an unnamed location. The opening sequences make you think you're going to be watching a lighthearted porn spoof of shows like "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Green Acres". We see the aforementioned Mr. Colt as Shep, an aging, bedraggled husband who is happily going at it with his wife Kate (porn superstar and publisher Gloria Leonard, billed here as Gayle Leonard.) Ms. Leonard is fine on the eyes but it takes a lot of willpower to watch Colt enjoying carnal pleasures with her. Things get kinky right away when we see that they are been secretly observed by their three daughters (Susan McBain, Marlene Willoughby and Nancy Dare). That's a pretty twisted premise right there but things are about to get even weirder. The three sexually frustrated sisters are inspired to take matters into their own hands and start a private orgy between themselves. When a goofy local farm boy, Fred (Bill Cort), stumbles on the scene, they force him to have sex with them. (That's right: in the film's most unbelievable lapse in credibility, he has to be forced to have sex with them.) What follows won't be described here in detail. Suffice it to say that upon having Fred reluctantly satisfy their needs they indulge in some acts of humiliation towards him that are still plenty eye-opening even by today's standards.
Pretty soon the sisters get their own comeuppance when three escaped convicts happen upon the farmhouse. You don't have to be a modern Sherlock Holmes to figure out the premise that happens next as the three men engage in gang rape and even kinkier activities involving the girl's parents. Again, we won't provide the details but the molestation of young Fred pales in comparison to what follows. The film's climax somehow incorporates elements of "Last House on the Left", "Deliverance" and "Death Wish" and combines group sex, gang rape, blood-drenched revenge murders and incest, thus giving a new interpretation of movies that are intended for the whole family. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of this wacky exercise in perversion is the fact that one of the horny convicts is played by a real actor, Spalding Gray. Yes, that Spaulding Gray, the grumpy raconteur who built a cult following on the basis of his one-man stage show and subsequent film, "Swimming to Cambodia" which was based on his experiences playing a small role in the 1984 movie "The Killing Fields".
"Farmer's Daughters" is repulsive, offensive, shocking and degenerate on every level. Small wonder that these "qualities" are cited in promotional releases for the DVD which will undoubtedly please its intended audience.
Another Impulse release is more benign in content but also wacky in its own way. "Snow Honeys", released in 1983, is a hodgepodge collection of scenes from unrelated porn flicks wrapped around a thin premise. Erotic superstars of the era Ken Starbuck and Kara Lott open the movie in scenes filmed at a scenic ski resort. They amiably break the "fourth wall" and speak directly to the viewer, griping that they are getting very little money for being in this production so they might as well enjoy themselves. Within minutes the two are starkers inside a resort hotel room and bizarrely describing scenes we are about to see even while they are pleasuring each other. This device is used to link choppy clips from older porn movies starring such familiar names and faces as John Holmes (was there a porn flick from this era he wasn't in?). Vanessa Del Rio, Desiree Cousteau, Seka and John Leslie, to name just a few. The vignettes range from a rather strange lesbian seduction sequence that starts out as romantic but quickly turns S&M to a somewhat amusing take off of Superman with the hero, Super Rod, getting it on with Lois Lane (named Lois Canal here). The big joke is that every time they mention their more famous counterparts' names, they are bleeped. "Snow Honeys" is fairly uninspired in its premise but does provide some abbreviated and memorable moments from other, better productions- and at least Ken Starbuck and Kara Lott are much easier on the eye than watching anything starring Zebedy Colt.
Both transfers are impressive considering the questionable source material and both include sneak peeks at Impulse's line of "Peep Show" silent loops from grind house theaters of days gone by. "Snow Honeys" also has a reversible sleeve with the alternate image more provocative than the weird sleeve depicted above.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "FARMER'S DAUGHTERS" FROM AMAZON
Johnny Depp, whose films have generally tanked at the boxoffice lately, is returning to the safe terrain of the "Pirates" franchise.
Forbes has compiled their annual list that no actor wants to find themselves on: the most overpaid stars of the year. Forbes matches an actor's stratospheric paychecks to the performances of his films at the boxoffice. The results show that Johnny Depp leads the pack in terms of the dubious honor of being the most overpaid major star. Other "honorees" include such major names as Denzel Washingon, Will Ferrell and Will Smith, all of whom suffered through a number of money losing duds. The perpetual favorite in the analysis, Adam Sandler, escaped being named the most overpaid actor only because he didn't have a film in release during the time frame Forbes used to compile the list.. For more click here.
"Ten Seconds to Hell" is the kind of low-key potboiler that studios used to churn out by the dozens in the hopes of making a fast profit. That isn't meant as a knock. Plenty of very worthy films fall into this category and there is much to recommend about this one even if it never quite lives up to its potential. The most interesting aspect of "Ten Seconds to Hell" is the fact that among its creators are any number of big names who were on the cusp of gaining wider recognition. Director and co-writer Robert Aldrich was already an established name in the industry but would find his greatest successes ("Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" ,"The Dirty Dozen" among them) in the Sixties. Producer Michael Carreras, one of the founders of Hammer Films, was just discovering that that the horror film genre for which Hammer would be forever associated was far more lucrative than standard thrillers or crime films which Hammer had originally produced. The cinematographer Ernest Laszlo would go on to lens such high profile films as "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", "Judgment at Nuremberg" and "Fantastic Voyage". Art director Ken Adam would become perhaps the most legendary production designer in the history of the business with "Dr. Strangelove", "Barry Lyndon" and numerous James Bond films to his credit. Thus, modest productions such as "Ten Seconds to Hell" often provided fertile training grounds for major talents in the making.
The story is an off-beat one in terms of its protagonists who are six German soldiers who return to Berlin in the immediate aftermath of WWII. What they find is an apocalyptic landscape that the local population and the Allied forces are trying to rebuild into a major urban center. Aside from the sheer logistics of clearing the debris from seemingly endless bombing raids there is the problem of bombs themselves. As in every city that faced bombardment there were countless "dud" bombs that failed to go off. However they remained a major risk as they were capable of exploding without warning. It fell to small teams of incredibly courageous men to try to disarm them- and the casualty and fatality rates among them were sky high. The six German ex-soldiers had cleared dud bombs for the army during the war. In fact they were all deemed to be politically undesirable by the Nazis and were sentenced to concentration camps. However since there were considered to be expendable, they could best serve the Reich by disarming bombs. If they were killed in the process then so be it. The six men formed a tight-knit group and learned the expertise required to survive the war. Now upon returning to Berlin, the British solicit their services to disarm dud bombs that have fallen throughout the city. As an inducement the men are offered high salaries, comfortable apartments and double rations- quite an offer for a city that was left in poverty and on the brink of starvation. The men agree to the plan even though they know that they will face death every day. The group is dominated by two strong-willed men: Eric Koertner (Jack Palance), a sullen but honest man who is nursing psychological wounds from the war that are never satisfactorily explained and Karl Wirtz (Jeff Chandler), a selfish man of few morals who puts a good time above everything else. The six men end up making a pact with a morbid premise: they will each contribute half of their salaries into a pot over a period of three months. Knowing there is a good chance at least some of them will die in the course of their work, the survivors will split the proceeds at the end of the "game". What starts out as a rather tasteless exercise takes on greater resonance when, indeed, over the course of several weeks numerous members of the group are indeed killed in the line of duty. Adding to the tensions is the deteriorating relationship between Eric and Karl, who must share the same apartment with Margot Hofer (Martine Carol), a beautiful young French woman who is persona-non grata in her native country because her late husband had been a German soldier who was part of the occupying forces in Paris. These three troubled souls are forced to inhabit the same living quarters and inevitably sexual tensions arise. Eric is slowly falling for Margot on an emotional level while Karl clearly just wants to take physical advantage of her. Predictably the end of the film finds the two men as the last living members of their group and who are engaged in working together on a particularly dangerous disarmament of a bomb from which only one will emerge alive.
"Ten Seconds to Hell" falls short in several key aspects. If there is a sure-fire way to ensure on-screen suspense it revolves around having someone desperately having to disarm an explosive device. Yet director Aldrich fails to wring much suspense out of these premises. Additionally the characters are not very well-defined. We never really get to know the reasons behind Eric's moody personality. We learn he was a prominent architect prior to the war but the script hints at much deeper insights into the man that never materialize. Additionally, Karl is such a loathsome, self-centered and untrustworthy man that one wonders why the group chooses to include him among them in their post-war assignments. Not helping matters is that this is yet another Tower of Babel-like film production in which some of the supporting characters have quasi-German accents while the male leads all talk with varying American accents that make it hard to accept them as German nationals. Aldrich deserves kudos for thinking outside the box and presenting the post-war period from the standpoint of those on the losing side but the distraction of hearing known American stars such as Palance and Chandler speak as though they are in a Western proves to be a minor undoing of the film. Still, "Ten Seconds to Hell" is an efficiently-made thriller and boasts some memorable aspects such as a sequence in which one of the group is trapped under a fallen bomb while a dilapidated building threatens to fall on top of him and his would-be rescuers. At the time the film was made in 1959 there were still plenty of bombed-out neighborhoods in West Berlin and Aldrich and art director Ken Adam take full advantage, providing some eerie backdrops for the film's most pivotal scenes. I also enjoyed the byplay between Chandler, Palance and Martine Carol who makes for a sympathetic figure- a woman who could not help but fall in love with an average German soldier despite the fact that her country had fallen to the army he represented. In many ways her character is the most interesting of all the protagonists. Palance gives one of his more restrained performances and refrains from hamming it up, as he could frequently do. Chandler is effective playing against type as a charismatic villain.
The Blu-ray transfer is flawless and does justice to the stark black-and-white cinematography. An original trailer is included and, as was the practice of the day, its typically bombastic in its promises to provide riveting screen entertainment.
Robson’s Valley of the Dolls (1967) became something of commercial success,
despite being generally panned by the critics. Following the murder of Sharon
Tate, the film was re-released in 1969 and once again proved to be a success
with audiences. In December 1969, filming began on Beyond the Valley of the
Dolls (1970), a film that was intended as a direct sequel to Robson’s movie. Jacqueline
Susann, the original author of Valley of the Dolls had been approached to write
a screenplay, but declined the offer. Instead, director Russ Meyer and film
critic Roger Ebert, took on and completed the task in just six weeks. Ebert
described it as ‘a satire of Hollywood conventions’ while Meyer leant more
towards ‘a serious melodrama, a rock musical […]and a moralistic expose of the nightmarish
world of Show Business’.
film is set around a female band, The Kelly Affair featuring Kelly MacNamara
(Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella "Pet"
Danforth (Marcia McBroom). Along with their manager (and Kelly’s boyfriend) Harris
Allsworth (David Gurian) the group set off to Los Angeles to find Kelly's
estranged aunt, Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis), who is heiress to a family fortune.
and her band arrive and are greeted fondly by Susan who informs her that she
will be left a portion of her inheritance. However, Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod)
a financial adviser to Susan, attempts to discredit the band as general
degenerates in order to embezzle the money for himself. Aunt Susan meanwhile
introduces Kelly and the band to a connected producer Ronnie "Z-Man"
Barzell (John LaZar). At one of his flamboyant parties, Z-Man wastes little
time in persuading the band to perform, the result of which is a huge
success. Z-Man becomes the group’s
manager and changes their name to The Carrie Nations which ignites the fuse and
causes a series of clashes with Harris.
of these elements nicely combine to set up a classic and well-rounded piece of
melodrama. Add to the mix a healthy dash of seduction, drugs, alcohol, one-night
stands, a lesbian affair, an abortion and a delicious little twist or two and
you’ll discover there’s more than enough meat on the bone for a fulfilling and
thoroughly magical couple of hours.
have put together a really thoughtful and beautifully presented limited (3000
copies) edition containing two of Russ Meyer’s key Hollywood films. The Blu-ray
(1080p) presentation of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is quite wonderful. The
vibrancy of the film’s colour palette shines through in practically every scene
and is only emphasised by the lush surroundings of the late Sixties hippy
culture. Skin tones (and there’s a lot of it on show) look fresh, but perfectly
natural and free of any forced enhancement. The film retains that comic book colour
freshness that one could perhaps align with in any classic episode of TVs
Batman. Yes, it very hip and very cool. Arrow has also provided an array of supplementary
delights especially in terms of audio options. Aside from the film’s original
uncompressed mono track, there is an engrossing commentary track by
co-screenwriter and film critic, the late Roger Ebert. Ebert’s commentary is a
wonderful listen, a man who knew his stuff and was of course an element of the
film’s DNA. Whist the commentary was initially featured on Fox’s DVD release of
2006; it’s a real treat to have it included here on the Blu-ray. Also featured
is a second audio commentary, courtesy of cast members including Erica Gavin,
John LaZar, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page and Dolly Read. Again, this commentary
also appeared previously on the Fox DVD, and while it is rather less
streamlined than Ebert’s specifics, it does offer an entirely different
perspective. The two commentaries ultimately complement each other rather well.
On top of the two commentaries is a further music and effects track, which I
believe marks a first for this title on any home cinema format. It’s a very
welcome track, considering the popularity of music and for consumers who might
not have the soundtrack among their collections.
this point it is perhaps best to shift focus towards Arrow’s second disc in
this set, and the film The Seven Minutes (1971). This Russ Meyer directed film
was made directly after Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and was his last
mainstream production for Twentieth-Century Fox. The film consists mainly of
his stable of regular actors and actresses, but look out, too, for appearances
by Yvonne De Carlo and a very young Tom Selleck. Overall, the film was considered
as a rare commercial failure for Meyer, but it’s very welcome here as a bonus
disc. Sadly, it is only included in standard DVD format.
to Arrow’s other bonus material; there is an optional introduction by Z-Man
himself, John LaZa. Much more entertaining is: Above, beneath and beyond the
Valley: The Making of a Musical-Horror-Sex-Comedy, which is a fascinating
retrospective documentary (30 minutes). Look
On Up at the Bottom, with composer Stu Phillips and three members of the Carrie
Nations discussing the film’s music. It’s a nice little featurette which
manages to cram a lot into its relatively short time (11 minutes). The Best of
Beyond features favourite moments from the film selected by cast and crew
members (12 minutes). Sex, Drugs, Music & Murder: Signs of the time, baby takes
a look at the late 1960s social culture that spawned Beyond the Valley of the
Dolls (8 minutes). Casey & Roxanne: The Love Scene is a nice short
featuring both participants Erica Gavin and Cynthia Myers who discuss the
film’s lesbian scene (5 minutes). There is also a very nice collection of screen
tests for Michael Blodgett, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page and Marcia McBroom, all
of which are presented in relatively nice condition (8 minutes). Also included
is a selection of trailers, one of which is based on a behind-the-scenes photo
shoot with Meyer taking the publicity photos and provides a great ‘sneak peek’
privilege. Finally there is a high definition photo gallery which consists of
approximately 125 images.
packaging is of their usual (and exceptional) high standard. Inside contains an
informative and nicely illustrated 42 page booklet featuring new writing on the
film by critic Kat Ellinger. I was also very happy to see Arrow’s regular
reversible sleeve format containing two original pieces of ‘Beyond’ film art,
rather than an optional piece of ‘new’ art. It’s an option that will arguably
please the purists among film collectors.
was fabulous to revisit what is perhaps Meyer’s most polished piece of work.
Yes, there’s no denying it, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is trashy, dirty and
totally unscrupulous… and exactly why I find it so lip-smacking good. Everything
considered, it’s probably the best piece of exploitation ever committed to
film. So miss this wonderful cult classic at your peril…
Though the 1966 space-age vampire flick Queen of Blood is not new to home video,
it has been one of the more elusive science-fiction titles of the 1960s. Issued on VHS as Planet of Blood back in the early 1980s on the budget “Star
Classics” label and later in 1990 on a much improved laser disc from Image (paired
with Mario Bava’s similarly-themed Planet
of the Vampires), Queen of Blood has
been mostly unavailable to collectors for nearly twenty-five years. In March 2011 MGM finally re-issued the title
as part of its Limited Edition Collection,
but only as a made-on-demand release. In
2015, Kino Lorber has – very happily for genre fans and collectors - rescued
this title from the wasteland of cult-film marginalia with their superb Blu-Ray
release of this Roger Corman-Curtis Harrington classic.
of Blood (for reasons we’ll get into a little later on) more
resembles a 1950s sci-fi B-film than one from a decade on. Astronauts Allan Brenner (John Saxon) and Laura
James (Judi Meredith) are co-workers at the International
Institute of Space Technology. The
agency is developing plans to send a spacecraft to Mars and Venus but James’
works seems terribly mundane: she sits
in the radio room diligently monitoring the stream of white-noise signals
emanating from outer-space. Listening
for endless hours at this “music of the spheres” (as Brenner describes the monotonous
stream), James might be doing important work; but it doesn’t seem – at first – that
she enjoys a particularly exciting forty-hour work week. That is not until the radio she monitors starts
picking up an unusual transmission.
Expert cryptographists and cipher analysts are brought
in and quickly decipher the spectral message from the cosmos. They’re excited to learn that seemingly
friendly and curious ambassadors from an un-specified planet are en route to visit
planet earth. The scientists are obviously
thrilled by the prospect, and one can appreciate the excitement of the
world-renown Dr. Farraday (Basil Rathbone) as he triumphantly crows via a loudspeaker
that the greatest of historical summits is imminent. But the euphoria on campus is short-lived. The planned meeting seems to take an unpredicted
turn for the worse when a second message is received. It seems the alien’s spacecraft has
crash-landed on a Martian moon and its surviving single occupant asks that a
space craft be dispatched to collect. This is where, of course, the trouble begins.
A rescue mission is arranged, with Brenner, James, Paul
Grant (Dennis Hopper) and Dr. Anders Brockman (Robert Boon) in tow. The alien spacecraft has crashed on the
Martian moon of Phobos and it’s there that the crew will have their first
face-to-face meeting with the titular Queen
of Blood (Florence Marley). With her
green skin, crimson red lips, and mod bee-hive hair-do (initially hidden by the
rugby-ball shaped leather helmet she wears), it must be said that the visitor
cuts a startling figure. Brockman
suggests the space-ambassador’s green-tint is likely due to the presence of chlorophyll
in her genetic make-up, that the emissary’s DNA might be more akin to that of a
plant. If the Queen is a sophisticated plant, as the astronaut opines,
it’s safe to say she’s more Venus fly-trap than sunflower.
Paul’s gentle entreaties to the alien are both warm and
genuine. He tries to get her to sip some water but her disingenuous eyes
are mistaken as windows of affection. In reality, the Queen is not
displaying any romantic interest in Paul (as embodied by the still strikingly
young Dennis Hopper). She is, in fact, sizing up the naive astronaut as a
possible future meal. We soon learn the reason the Queen has not partaken
in any of the previous meals offered; she’s more intent on feeding on the warm
blood of the crew. There haven’t been any screams in the night to alert
them to the menace. The Queen first hypnotizes her intended prey and then, much
like a vampire bat, uses her saliva to serve as a numbing agent, dulling the pain
of the incisors as they stab into her victim. Once wise to the treachery,
the astronauts – still determined to bring her back to earth as the scientific
find of the ages – feeds her the ship’s store of blood plasma. This works
out OK until that limited supply is exhausted and they’re still far from earth.
The back-story to this film is nearly as interesting as
the film itself. The imaginative and extraterrestrial scenes were Soviet in
origin, the outer-space sequences shot entirely at the Odessa film studios in
the Ukraine, just off the shoreline of the Black Sea. The space-footage featured in Queen of Blood had been primarily sourced
from the 1963 Soviet film Mechte
Navstrechu (“A Dream
Come True”) (1963), directed by Mikhail Karzhukov and Otar Koberidze. In what would prove to be the first salvo of
the C.C.C.P. vs. U.S. space-race, the Soviet Union would launch Sputnik in
October of 1957. It was the first
successful satellite launch in world history and Soviet filmmakers were
encouraged to celebrate this glowing achievement of socialism with Eastern bloc
neighbors in the form of cinematic paeans. The multitude of imaginative space-age film tapestries created in the
wake of the Sputnik launch were truly impressive; the Soviet depictions of space-ways
were majestically conceived presentations combining vibrant colors, eerie
Martian landscapes, rotating spherical objects, state-of-the-art visual
effects, and futuristic set decoration.
happened upon seeing several of these magnificent space-epics in a cinema in
east Hollywood. Thrilled by the
sophistication of the on-screen imagery, Corman would travel to the Soviet
Union and arrange licensing rights for a package of Soviet sci-fi films through
Mosfilm, the official-organ of the state-run motion-picture industry. Corman wasn’t interested in releasing the
films in the U.S. in their original – and very political - forms. He recognized the Soviet films were littered
with heavy-handed doses of anti-Americanism and thinly disguised metaphorical proselytisms
of socialist-internationalism. Corman
was primarily interested in re-cutting and re-dubbing the Soviet films for
consumption by a decidedly non-ideological U.S. audience. Queen
of Blood would not be Corman’s first experiment with such
re-constitution. Two of his earliest
efforts in re-dubbing and incorporating new footage to westernize his package
of Russian sci-fi films were Voyage to
the Prehistoric Planet (1965) and Battle
Beyond the Sun (1962).
In the case
of Mechte Navstrechu, a film mostly
plundered for use in Queen of Blood,
its rosy scenario of peaceful co-existence between the planets was not commercially
viable. Instead Corman envisioned the film
as a space-age version of a “traditional gothic vampire story.” As he was busy working on other projects, Corman
arranged for director Curtis Harrington to shoot new scenes with an American
and British cast and then seamlessly blend these segments into the existing
Russian space-footage. In one of the
supplements, Corman mildly boasts that many scholars have mused that the
low-budget Queen of Blood might have
very well been the template for the big-budget box-office smash Alien (1979). This is at least partly true, but Queen of Blood itself was largely a
re-working of the It! The Terror from
Beyond Space” (1958). Sci-fi and horror film buffs will also detect the
not-so-subtle allusions to the famous Twilight
Zone episode “To Serve Man” (broadcast March 2, 1962) as well as Mario
Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965).
Having already made a considerable investment in his licensing
of the Soviet films, executive producer Corman was rather stingy with the
financing of its American cousin. Harrington was only apportioned somewhere in
the region of $40,000 to $65,000 – depending on what source you’re to believe -
to re-constitute the original Soviet production into a commercial commodity. Though John Saxon had earned a reputation for
professionalism as an actor – he already had two-dozen or so films to his
credit - his star had not yet completely risen. Seventy-three year-old Basil Rathbone was brought in for a day’s work to
augment the bill as the seasoned actor enjoyed name recognition amongst genre
There’s no trouble identifying the Harrington-shot
footage from the original Soviet - and this is not a knock against his
direction. To keep production costs down the U.S. control-room sets had
been, very clearly, constructed from wood elements purposefully painted silver
as to project a metallic sheen. As seamless
merging of the original film with new footage was paramount to the film’s
success, a great amount of attention – and budget - was given to the art department
to authentically mimic the design of the original space-suits and helmets worn
by cosmonauts in the original film.
Regardless of such penny-pinching shortfalls, Queen
of Blood is one of the more eerie space-films of the era. This is
mostly due to Harrington’s ingenious use of shadowy silhouettes as an
inexpensive but effective method to convey tension and suspense. Most of the memorable on-screen gloominess of
Queen of Blood is the result of the
unblinking, emotionless eyes of Czech actress Florence Marley. It was a
masterstroke not to give Marley’s green-tinted alien any dialogue – it would
have surely diluted the effect of her menacing countenance. Watching her cold
eyes follow the doomed crew-members aboard the spacecraft with a cold,
reptilian-like disengagement is positively chilling.
This Kino Lorber Blu-Ray release
features the film as 1080p high-definition widescreen (1:85:1) transfer. Supplements include an interview with Roger
Corman, who provides his never-less-than usual amiable but cogent overview of
things, including a reminiscence of when first introduced to the Soviet
science-fiction films in a theater in east Hollywood. The nitty-gritty of the Queen of Blood production is more thoroughly examined in a second
interview, this time featuring the commentary of with Oscar-winning visual
effects specialist Robert Skotak. Skotak
is as much historian as artist (he’s the author of “IB Melchior: Man of Imagination” (Midnight Marquee Press), and
muses knowledgably and at some length on all aspects of this great
“B”-film. The original theatrical
trailer of Queen of Blood rounds out
the special features.
The Warner Archive has delved into its vaults to release some WWII-era American propaganda films. One of the more interesting titles is "Hitler's Madman", a 1943 exploitation piece directed by Douglas Sirk, who would go on to become an esteemed filmmaker whose work is still revered today. The movie was made on shoestring by an independent production company and was considered marketable enough for MGM to make a rare acquisition of a film made outside of the studio's control. The "quickie" nature of the production was designed to capitalize on one of the most horrendous war crimes in history: the systematic destruction of an entire village, Lidice, in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The film centers on the ordeal suffered by the peasant population of the village when Nazi rule becomes increasingly more oppressive under the command of "Reich Protector" Reinhard Heydrich, a Hitler favorite because of his unquestioning loyalty to National Socialist dogma. Even by Nazi standards Heydrich was considered a brute and was feared by both the people of Czechoslovakia and Germans who interacted with him. Heydrich was a man without conscience who believed in suppressing dissent by use of ruthless methods. He is played very well in the film by John Carradine, whose dyed blonde hair renders him virtually unrecognizable. Its doubtful that the real Heydrich engaged in the kind of Prof. Moriarty dialogue and mannerisms that characterized so many cinematic villains of the period, but Carradine does manage to evoke some truly sinister and creepy forms of behavior, all the time exuding a pretentious charm that makes those on the receiving end of his icy stare realize they might well be doomed.
The script personalizes the ordeal of the people of Lidice by following the story of Jarmilla Hanka (Patricia Morrison), a young woman who is shocked to discover that her former boy friend Karel Vavra (Alan Curtis) has secretly arrived back in town on a mission for the Allies to organize the locals into an underground movement to disrupt Nazi activities. He gets a less-than-enthusiastic welcome by the men of the village who are understandably reluctant to give Heydrich an excuse to unleash a widespread crackdown on the population. Jarmilla's own father Jan (Ralph Morgan) is an advocate for conformity and warns against the consequences of opposing the Nazis. However, Heydrich and his goons ratchet up the pressure by arresting and executing professors and other intellectuals, then forcing the male students to "volunteer" for service on the Eastern front. Adding insult to injury, he announces that girls between the ages of 16-19 will be forced into bordellos to pleasure the stressed out German troops. in one of the film's most daring and unnerving scenes, Heydrich has the young women line up in a perverted version of a beauty pageant as he personally decides which girls have the necessary "qualities" for this degrading assignment. In fact the film abounds with sequences that are shocking in their implications. It was pretty strong stuff for 1943. However, there is a good deal of Hollywood hokum attached as well as the expected distortion of historical events. It is true that Heydrich was assassinated and, in revenge, Hitler ordered every male in Lidice to be shot; every adult woman sent to a concentration camp and all young children sent to state-run orphanages. He then ordered that the entire village be razed to the ground and that any historic or geographical reference to its existence be eliminated. The film attributes Heydrich's murder to Jamrilla and her father who assassinate him on a country road. This is pure baloney. Heydrich was actually mortally wounded by a team of highly trained commandos who carried out the deed as Heydrich's car drove through the streets of Prague. Historical liberties aren't the only problem with the film. The acting tends to be of the "over-the-top" variety that was frequent in Poverty Row productions of the era. Not helping matters is the distraction of having some actors utilize exotic European accents while others sound like they are from New Jersey. This "Tower of Babble" effect undercuts the dramatic aspects of the performances. However, the film retains much of its power in the jarring sequences of Nazi oppression and the human toll it took on the population of the lands areas they occupied. There is also the considerable presence of John Carradine, whose performance transcends some of the weaker aspects of the production. Director Sirk also rises above the material and, given the minimal clout he must have had at this point in his career, manages to make a "B" exploitation flick into something more meaningful.
The Warner Archive region-free DVD looks fine but contains no extras.
If you never heard of the controversial 1982 futuristic thriller "Turkey Shoot" it may be because the film's release was largely botched especially in the United States where Roger Corman picked up distribution rights and re-titled the movie "Escape 2000" (despite the fact that the story is set in the year 1995!). The film's troubled production history is graphically outlined in the impressive Blu-ray special edition from Severin Films. But first let's examine the premise. "Turkey Shoot" is among the countless forerunners of "The Hunger Games" in that it uses the time-honored concept of presenting helpless humans as prey in sadistic "sporting" contests. From "The Most Deadly Game" to Cornel Wilde's superb "The Naked Prey", the concept seems to be a favorite for screenwriters and directors. "Turkey Shoot" started as a promising venture for director Brian Trenchard-Smith. His two leading actors, Steve Railsback (who had recently made a splash in the acclaimed film "The Stunt Man") and Olivia Hussey (of "Romeo and Juliet" fame) were enthused about the premise. The film presents them in a futuristic society in an unnamed country where totalitarianism is prevalent. (How come we never see an optimistic view of a futuristic society?) Railsback is Paul Anders, an admitted dissident against the police state who is busted when he makes repeated radio broadcasts denouncing the government. Hussey is Chris Walters, an apolitical young woman who gets arrested when she tries to aid someone who is being brutalized by the state security forces. The two find themselves whisked to a "re-education" camp in a remote jungle setting. The place is actually a concentration camp run by a sadist named Thatcher (Michael Craig, whose character's name is a not so subtle rebuke of the British prime minister of the era. In fact, in some countries the film was released with the alternate title "Blood Camp Thatcher"). Anders continues to defy authority and Thatcher delights in torturing him. Chris tries to keep a low profile but it isn't long before the predatory guards headed by Chief Ritter (Roger Ward) have targeted her and other young women for chronic sexual abuse. The nightmarish situation only becomes worse when Paul, Chris and two other inmates- Rita Daniels (Lynda Stoner) and Griff (Bill Young)- are chosen to be prey in a high stakes game of life or death. The four prisoners are sent unarmed into the wilds with a bit of a head start before Thatcher and some elitist cronies begin hunting them with hi-tech weaponry as well as a crossbow, wielded with deadly skill by Jennifer (Carmen Duncan), a vivacious but particularly cruel woman with lesbian tendencies who has some distasteful plans for Rita, to whom she is sexually attracted. It takes quite some time to get to the main theme of the film which is the "turkey shoot" of the hapless prey, all of whom delight the hunters by proving to be especially inventive in their methods of staying alive. The victims also prove to be masters of turning the tables on their pursuers and killing several of them. Things tend to get very bizarre when, out of the blue and without explanation, a half-man, half-beast creature is unleashed by the hunters to help track down the exhausted fugitives. It's like someone inserted some outtakes from the 1977 version of "The Island of Dr. Moreau" into the movie. Along the way viewers are treated to an unending feast of sadism, sexism, and all-around general cruelty complete with torturous deaths, some of which are over-the-top and seem included only for the sake of the gore factor.
When "Turkey Shoot" was originally released it apparently was the subject of quite a bit of controversy in Australia and the UK, where critics and media watchdogs griped about the film's violent content. Over the decades, however, the movie seems to have built a loyal cult following that may have been at least in part attracted by the film's back story, which is more compelling than what ended up on screen. All of this is explored in Severin Films' outstanding bonus features, many of which were imported from a previously released edition from another company. Combined with some fascinating interviews culled from the acclaimed documentary "Not Quite Hollywood" (an excellent history of the Australian film industry by director Mark Hartley), this hodge podge of bonus features adds up to one of the most compelling special editions I've experienced. Most of the major participants are seen reminiscing about the movie. Since they were interviewed separately there wasn't the stigma of offending another participants sensibilities. The interviews play out like a real-life version of "Rashomon" with so many distinctly different versions of the same experience that you wonder if these folks are referring to the same movie. Their candor is both amusing and fascinating as they mostly recall their work on the movie as a very unpleasant experience. (Olivia Hussey is notable by her absence from the extras and this is perhaps the reason why.) The real fun starts when the blame game goes into effect with various actors, producers and Trenchard-Smith assigning responsibility for a film most consider to be least somewhat of a disaster. Trenchard-Smith points out that just before shooting started his production funding was cut substantially. This resulted in key sequences being scrapped. He could have quit there but you have to admire the guy. As a true professional he stuck with the truncated version of the script and began shooting in an inhospitable climate with an unhappy cast and trying to cope with often sub-par special effects caused by the budget cuts. He admits that the negative reaction to the film derided his career (although apparently it made a good deal of money.) There is a new round table discussion with Trenchard-Smith, producer Anthony Ginanne and cinematographer Vincent Monton (who did not film "Turkey Shoot" but who had worked for Ginanne on other productions.) The discussion is polite but leaves little doubt that both Trenchard-Smith and Ginanne both harbor different views about who is to blame for the film's artistic failings. Steve Railsback, seen in a separate interview, implies that even with a reduced budget of $2.5 million, it should have bought a more opulent production for its era and insinuates that some hanky-panky may have caused some of the funding to mysteriously disappear. Lynda Stoner remains especially bitter about her experience on the movie and is still angry that she was pressured into doing a nude scene. Hussey was, too, but stuck to her guns only to have a completely unconvincing body double play the scene. Stoner also harbors resentment toward actor David Hemmings (who did not appear in the film, but who served as one of the producers) for being a dictatorial presence on the set and even insisting upon directing some sequences.
For all its faults there is much to admire in "Turkey Shoot" especially when one becomes aware of the extreme obstacles that the director and cast had to overcome. The gore factor has become somewhat less shocking in our desensitized era and the good things about it (notably the performances and direction) hold up well. The movie is definitely an acquired taste for select viewers but the Severin special edition should be recommended as a "must have" for anyone who wants an insightful look at how major productions can be sabotaged by factors that neither the case or crew have any control over.
In the 1970s and 1980s director Brian De Palma had some high profile hits with Hitchcockian thrillers such as "Sisters", "Obsession", "Dressed to Kill", "Blow Out" and "Body Double". De Palma's defenders extolled the virtues of these films as clever homages to Hitchcock while detractors accused De Palma of using The Master's formulas to make a fast buck. In 1982 director Robert Benton jumped on the same bandwagon with his own Hitchcockian project, "Still of the Night", which was shot under the title "Stab" before the marketing campaign had been re-evaluated. A few years earlier Benton had triumphed at the Oscars with "Kramer vs. Kramer", taking home the Best Director Oscar. That film also provided an important career boost for Meryl Streep, who also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The two were reunited for this project which stands out on both of their credentials as an odd choice. Chances are that when you think of Streep's exalted status in the film community today, the thriller genre is unlikely to come to mind. (Though she did also appear in "The River Wild" and the remake of "The Manchurian Candidate".) Benton, who had directed relatively few films to date, was more accustomed to the genre and perhaps his involvement with this flawed production can be explained by the fact that the basis for the story (which he collaborated on with David Newman) was a real life experience that found him obsessed with a woman who simultaneously excited and frightened him. Certainly it's a sold premise for a thriller and through much of the movie Benton provides a compelling scenario complimented by two excellent actors: Streep and Roy Scheider. The film falls apart in the final act when it begins to resemble less of a homage to Hitchcock than an homage to De Palma's homages to Hitchcock- with a dose of "Play Misty for Me" thrown in (i.e knife wielding killer attacks protagonist on a balcony that overlooks the churning sea.) It's not that "Still of the Night" is bad (though Streep has gone on record as saying it is), it's simply that it hardly seems like it would ever have been compelling enough to attract two recent Oscar winners.
The film opens in the office of New York City psychiatrist Sam Rice (Scheider). Like most cinematic headshrinkers, he appears to need psychiatric care more than his patients do. He's going through the miseries of a divorce and seems bored and depressed. The only significant female relationship he has is with his mother (Jessica Tandy, who perhaps not coincidentally starred in Hitchcock's "The Birds".) Sam's mundane daily routine takes a dramatic turn when he discovers that a long-time patient, businessman George Bynum (Josef Sommer) has been found stabbed to death in his car on a Manhattan street. From this point some key elements of the story are told in flashback sequences. Sam remembers Bynum as a sexual predator who had been having an affair with one of his staff workers. Then he meets Brooke Reynolds (Streep), a gorgeous thirty-something blonde who seems both alluring and vulnerable. Bynum confesses that he is obsessed with her and cut off his previous affair in order to engage in one with Brooke. Shortly after Bynum's death, Sam is shocked when Brooke appears at his office, nervous, unsettled and chain-smoking. (Yes, you could smoke in an office in those days.) In the awkward conversation that follows she says the purpose of her visit is to return a wristwatch that Bynum had accidentally left at her apartment. She doesn't want to return it herself for fear of alerting Bynum's widow about the affair he was having with her. From minute one Sam is smitten and intrigued by this quirky, jittery- and stunningly beautiful- young woman. He also realizes that her cover story about the watch is thin. She actually wanted to meet him. Shortly thereafter Sam is visited by Detective Joe Vitucci (Joe Grifasi, channeling every personality cliche you can think of when it comes to a New York City cop). He asks Sam if he can shed any light on who might be Bynum's killer. Sam informs him that anything he had discussed with Bynum would be protected under doctor/client privilege...but he also finds himself unable to inform Vitucci about Bynum's affair with Brooke. He realizes he is now obsessed with her, just as Bynum was. He strongly suspects that Brooke is Bynum's murderer but can't get her out of his mind. Like Bynum, he's simultaneously sexually stimulated and terrified of her. Nevertheless, he begins finding excuses to see her and his presence seems to have a calming effect on Brooke. The friendship goes to another stage when she responds to his kiss but Sam is too lacking in self-confidence to actually seduce her. Meanwhile he begins to experience some eerie occurrences. He believes someone is stalking him in the basement of his apartment building. As he follows the mysterious Brooke on a nighttime walk through Central Park (a chilling scenario for anyone in those days), he finds himself alone and so unnerved that when a man jumps out of the shadows to mug him, he is actually relieved to have another human being on the scene. Director Benton knows that a sure-fire way to ratchet up suspense is to put the protagonist in a creepy dark house or in an equally unnerving location. However he goes to the well with this plot device a little too often. For a man who lives in the heart of Manhattan, Sam seems to wind up repeatedly in eerie, isolated places. However, some of the sequences are genuinely suspenseful as in the scene in which Sam is in the laundry room of his apartment building, deep in the bowels of the basement. No one is around. There is total isolation when suddenly the lights in an adjoining room inexplicably go out. You can share his sense of increasing panic as he knows someone is stalking him...but who and why? Refrehingly, Scheider portrays Sam as an everyday guy, not a tough-as-nails hero. He's vulnerable both physically and emotionally throughout.
The film's primary asset is its two stars, both of whom give intense and very convincing performances. There are also the usual plot twists and red herrings one would expect to find in a movie of this genre and Benton for the most part manages to wring some genuine suspense out of it even when he resorts to old gimmicks that include a dream sequence in which Bynum is menaced by an eerie little girl (are there any other kinds of little girls in dream sequences?) It's straight out of "The Shining" but then again just about everything in "Still of the Night" seems recycled, even though it manages to be engrossing right up until the climax when Benton the screenwriter resorts to every time-worn cliche imaginable: an old dark house, a sacrificial lamb character, a vulnerable hero, a knife-wielding maniac...you get the picture. About all that is missing is John Carradine as a mad scientist. The weak ending feels like it was tossed together at the last minute and doesn't retain the suspense or logic that Benton has managed to build heretofore. Nonetheless, "Still of the Night" is still worth a look if only for the performances and those few genuinely spooky sequences.
The Blu-ray edition from Kino Lorber includes the original trailer and trailers for two other Roy Scheider films, "Last Embrace" and "53 Pick-Up."
protest has been part of human society going back to Paleolithic times when the
first homo-protestapien complained "What, nuts and berries again?"
The response was most likely either "Go out and kill something,
then," or "Discover fire and I'll make a casserole." Admittedly,
I loosely translate from the original "ogg," "ugh" and
the year 1968 the earth was awash with protesters (for good reason) who had
developed protesting into an art form. The art form of choice was the protest
song. From Arlo Guthrie to John Lennon, Country Joe McDonald to Marvin Gaye,
Bob Dylan to The Plastic People of the Universe, Phil Ochs to Jimmy Cliff, the
airwaves were filled with politically charged lyrics that stirred the souls of
the youth of the world. Americans like to think they had a patent upon it but
Eastern Europe was at the forefront of something other than Vietnam, their own
had been over for more than twenty years but there still were countries in
upheaval. The Prague Spring had come to Czechoslovakia
and led to another Communist invasion. Yugoslavia was beset with protests from
ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and Western Macedonia that led to concessions that
angered Serbians and Montenegrins. This caused not only a Serbian emigration
from Kosovo but also further religious tensions as Macedonians created their
own Orthodox Church and Muslim nationalism rose in Bosnia irritating Serbian
churchmen. And, of course, the Cold War was in full swing in Germany with the
Berlin Wall, just seven years old, still 21 years away from demolition. It is
in the politically turbulent year of 1968 that "Fatherland," aka "Singing the Blues in Red" begins.
meet protest singer-songwriter Klaus Drittemann (Gerulf Pannach, whose
biography mirrors his character's) as he is interrogated by officials of the
Stalinist-Communist East German government who look to convict him of crimes
against the state and exile him. Drittemann (whose name translates from the
German as "third man," make of that what you will) is a
Marxist-socialist whose criticism leads to being denied to perform any longer
and eventually, at the age of 40, gets him a one-way exit visa to West Germany
and he leaves his son and an ex-wife behind.
some people may think that a good thing with the opportunity to make a living
again and become a success in the west - there is already a record company
waiting to sign him, Klaus does not. In his, and "Fatherland's" world
view capitalism is just as terrifyingly corrupt as hard-line Communism. He is
besieged as soon as he steps into the west, turned into a celebrity and faces a
choice of signing his life away to the record company or maintaining his
ethics. At his press conference in West Berlin he is asked a number of times
about his father (Sigfrit Steiner) who was also a musician forced into exile
back in the 1950s. When he opens a safe-deposit box in a bank there (the key to
which was passed to him by his mother back in East Berlin) he discovers
personal effects from his father that turn his life upside down. He now wants
to find his father and with the assistance of Emma, a French-Dutch journalist
(Fabienne Babe) who seems to be withholding information, he begins his journey
and heads to England.
made mostly in Germany and in German, "Fatherland" is an English
film. Written by Trevor Griffiths, who collaborated with Warren Beatty on
"Reds", it was directed by Ken Loach who made a number of politically
charged films in the 1980s that ran him afoul of the Conservative Margaret
Thatcher government. That government influence extended to the film and
television industries and Loach found it harder and harder to work in the UK.
This film could be viewed as Loach's and Griffith's response. The dichotomy of
Germany's two faces (materialistic consumerism v. slapstick communism) mirrors
the divided Great Britain of the late 80s where Thatcher's Tory government of
opportunists held sway over a divided Liberal party.
eventually found partners in West Germany and France. "Fatherland" is
as straightforward as good Rock ‘n Roll music, it doesn't pull many punches and
delivers a philosophy of life that sounds pretty bleak here: "The man born
to be hanged need not fear drowning. The ones that are ruled carry others; the
ones who rule are carried by others. Any life is better than no life." But
if I delivered these lines in context it would amount to a 'spoiler' and if
"Fatherland" teaches anything it is that context is everything.
"Fatherland" has been released by Twilight Time as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. The disc contains an isolated score track and an informational collector's booklet.
Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will has long posed a conundrum for film critics and historians. How do you assess a film that is brilliantly made but which promotes a hateful message? The 1934 production which was created as a love letter to Adolf Hitler and his rapidly-rising National Socialist movement has been relatively shunned at film festivals and the art house circuit over the decades. It's undoubtedly been most widely seen in classrooms and on home video. Yet the passing of time has allowed the film to be more actively shown in recent years and it is nearly always accompanied by an introduction that rightly explains its relevance both to the period in which it was made but also as it pertains to today's world. Director Riefenstahl had been a popular actress in German cinema who had caught the eye of Adolf Hitler, who was quite the movie fan (his favorites included Gone With the Wind and Laurel and Hardy.) Riefenstahl had recently become a pioneer as one of the first women to enter directing in the era of sound films. Hitler commissioned her to film the Nazi party's annual meeting in Nuremberg in the expectation that it would bolster the movement as well as increase the fanatical cult of personality that was already attached to him. Hitler had tried to overthrow the German government a decade earlier but ended up in jail. He turned this to his advantage by becoming a martyr to the cause and writing his personal bible Mein Kampf from his jail cell. By the time he was released, even those who had prosecuted him were trying to curry favor with the future dictator. Hitler ran for office and won the election to become Germany's chancellor. In reality he had most of the political power but was prudent enough to bide his time until the ceremonial head of state, Von Hindenburg, passed away from natural causes. Hitler knew that the public would not abide him disrespecting the beloved Von Hindenburg, who was regarded as a national war hero. As it had so many times in these early days of Hitler's rise, fate cooperated with his interests. Von Hindenburg passed away and Hitler went full throttle to establish himself as a virtual dictator. His first order of business was to eradicate Germany's fragile hold on democracy. The nation had come out on the losing side in WWI and was suffering terribly from onerous war reparations that had to be paid to the Allies, who were basically using Germany as a cash cow. Hitler quickly put to rest the last remnants of the loathed Weimar Republic and combined the offices of chancellor and president, thus giving himself unchallenged power over the country. He then persuaded the Reichstag to voluntarily cede most of their powers to him, thus making the series of checks and balances in the government a rubber stamp for Hitler's policies. Hitler still had important goals to fulfill. It was important to mobilize the nation as a fighting force in the expectation of war. However, he was bound by the Treaty of Versailles which mandated that Germany's armed forces number no more than 100,000 men. Hitler got around this by organizing numerous civic and political groups and turning them into paramilitary organizations. In this way he was able to train millions of Germans as soldiers even if they carried picks and shovels instead of rifles. Hitler also did some controversial "house cleaning" within his party by personally ordering the murders of SA head Ernst Rohm and his top lieutenants. The SA was Hitler's personal bodyguard but had grown to the size of an army. He worried that Rohm had political aspirations of his own and that he might orchestrate a coup. On the so-called Night of the Long Knives, the top echelon of the SA was systematically executed. Hitler appointed a more benign stooge, Viktor Lutze, as the new head of the SA. Hitler's biggest challenge was to ensure that he and Lutze could convince the rank and file SA men to stay loyal to the party and Hitler himself. This he intended to do at the Nuremberg rally, where he would give speech extolling his appreciation of the SA. The ploy worked and any dissension never spilled over into a threat to Hitler.
"Triumph of the Will" presents a sanitized picture of all these dastardly goings-on. What emerges is a nation that is completely behind Hitler and the Nazi cause. This was nonsense, of course. There were countless people who opposed the regime and over the course of the next few years they would pay dearly for their protests against the demise of German democracy. Nevertheless, as a propaganda piece the film is probably unrivaled in its impact. Although the movie was shown internationally, it didn't quite have the alarming impact one might have assumed. The Western democracies still thought of Hitler as primarily a quirky crank whose influence would be primarily confined within Germany's borders. Hitler's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was a master of using cinema as a tool of manipulation. Not wanting to alarm the Allies before Germany had been rebuilt militarily, the film was given rather non-threatening sub-titles to accommodate its international showings. Meanwhile, within Germany, the messages were more ominous. When viewing the film even today one gets the feeling that Germany was an invincible power. One can only imagine the trepidation Allied troops must have felt when they finally had to go up against what had become a seemingly unstoppable war machine. The clues were in the film. The legions of robot-like paramilitary adherents are presented as fanatical loyalists to the new dictator. In fact the "real" armed forces were featured so slightly in the film that they raised protests. To appease them, Hitler commissioned a second film by Riefehstahl titled "Day of Freedom" (also included in this set). The movie has her trademark use of imaginary camera angles but it amounts to basically a sop to the armed forces by showcasing their prowess through military training exercises. More powerful are the scenes in "Triumph of the Will" that carefully showcase Hitler as a demi-god. He is seen traveling to Nuremberg by the small plane he favored for use in his political campaign stops. (Hitler was the first politician to eschew the traditional whistle stop train tours in favor of using a plane in order to cover more territory.) The images of his plane flying through the spectacular cloud formations are truly stunning. We also watch him as he stares down at the massive rally forming in expectation of his arrival. When Hitler does arrive at the rally he is preceded by a small army of his top officials who were being formally introduced to the German people through this film. In retrospect, they formed the perfect "Rogue's Gallery" and would go on to perpetrate some of the most heinous crimes of the 20th century. Most paid for their sins with their lives though others were sentenced to jail terms in the aftermath of the war. When Hitler takes to the podium he used his trademark practice of starting his speech in a low voice but gradually rising in tone and emotion into a virtual scream. The most disturbing part of the film occurs when all of the countless thousands of participants march past the podium and pledge their loyalty, not to Germany, but to Hitler personally. The film then concentrates on the ancillary fanfare that took place during this seminal week in the nation's history as we watch torchlight parades march past Hitler's hotel balcony where he looks on approvingly. At all times Riefenstahl diminishes the notion of individualism in order to present Hitler in an almost superhuman manner. He is photographed from angles that make him seem literally larger than life.
The Synapse Blu-ray, which features a restoration by Robert A. Harris, contains some valuable extras, the most informative being a feature-length commentary track by Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, an expert on German history. Santoro's calm, laid-back manner is somewhat jolting at times, given the gravity of what we are viewing, but he provides excellent information regarding the nuances of these scenes and the fate of the individual Nazi top brass.Where the track falls a bit short is in Santoro's discussions of Riefenstahl and her legacy. He acknowledges her talents as a director but doesn't put much meat on the bone in regard to her personal life and legacy. (She lived until the age of 101 and never fully repented for her association with Hitler, nor was she ever prosecuted. She would defensively point out that she never actually joined the Nazi party, which is indeed surprising.) She would go on to make another important propaganda film for Hitler in 1938, Olympiad, an equally whitewashed account of the 1936 Olympics that were held in Berlin and which also managed to elevate Hitler as a star attraction even though he was largely a bystander. Arguably, Olympiad was the more important and effective film as it was meant to appease foreign concerns about the atrocities that were just being implemented in Germany.) Some of the slack from the commentary is addressed in excellent liner notes written by director and film historian Roy Frumkes, who delves deeper into Riefenstahl's fascinating life. Frumkes points out that the film should not really be considered a documentary because many of the "spontaneous" scenes were staged by Riefenstahl and some were shot repeatedly in order to get the desired footage. The new 2K restoration is impressive on all counts and does justice to Riefenstahl's astonishing camera angles. This presentation also boasts newly interpreted English sub-titles that accommodate the film's original German language version. It's beneficial to watch the film first then view it again with Dr. Santoro's commentary to provide context.
Compromised genius: Riefenstahl directing Triumph of the Will.
"Triumph of the Will" is indeed a major cinematic achievement- but tragically it promoted the greatest evil of the 20th century. The mind reels at what Leni Riefenstahl could have achieved had she not been compromised by her political beliefs.
Cinematographer Carl Guthrie opens “Fort Massacre” (1958)
with a widescreen cinemascope desert vista – mountains in the background, and a
rock formation shaped like a vulture perched on a rock in the foreground. The
vulture seems to be looking down at a group of soldiers on a burial detail. Private
Robert W. Travis (John Russell), a member of the troop, in a brief bit of
opening narration, tells what happened. “C” Troop, Sixth Cavalry was ambushed
by 50 apaches and only a dozen men survived. The commanding officer was killed,
and a lieutenant is badly wounded, leaving non-commissioned officer, Sgt. Vinson
(Joel McCrea), in command. Vinson is a tough man who says he makes his
decisions based on what he thinks Army regulations call for. But before long,
as they start the 100-mile journey to Ft. Crain, his men begin to wonder if
there isn’t something deeper and darker motivating him.
McCrea gives a grim, tight-lipped performance as Vinson, the
sergeant who has command of the troop suddenly thrust upon him. His mission is
to find the main column of soldiers they were separated from or failing that to
proceed by themselves to the fort. Among the other survivors is Travis, the
chronicler of this story, a young recruit who tells Vinson that he joined the
Army to become a man. Before that he was just a 28-year-old “baby,” unable to
make any decisions for himself. Educated, he could have been a doctor or a
lawyer but couldn’t decide, so he drifted. Pvt. McGurney (Forrest Tucker) is an
Irishman who’s seen a bit of life, and has found his home in the cavalry. He has
some serious concerns about Vinson’s ability to command. Next is Pvt. Pendleton (George N. Neise), one
of the wounded men, a coward constantly challenging Vinson’s decisions. There
are several others who all play a part in the drama, with Pawnee (Robert
Caruso), the Indian scout, an important and pivotal character.
Vinson decides to lead the troop toward a waterhole
ahead, but Pawnee returns from a scouting mission to report that 20 Apaches
have stopped there. Vinson, despite the strenuous objections of his men, orders
the troop onward. They will take the waterhole from the Apaches, even though
they are outnumbered at least 2-1. It’s on the way to this fight that McGivney
tells the other men he suspects the Sgt. doesn’t give a hoot about the safety
of his men, but is obsessed with hatred for the Apaches. He informs the others
that Apaches killed Vinson’s wife and now all he wants is revenge, even if he
has to sacrifice the entire patrol.
When they get to the waterhole, a fierce battle ensues,
and the troopers are victorious. However, Travis witnesses Vinson’s cold-blooded
murder of an Apache who had tried to surrender. When Travis questions him about
it, Vinson goes off the rails, ranting that the Apaches “hate us,” and you have
to “feed them bullets.” From this moment on even Travis begins to doubt his
sanity, and we watch as a tormented man battles his inner demons.
“Fort Massacre” was directed by Joseph M. Newman (“This
Island Earth”) from an original screenplay by Martin Goldsmith (“Detour,” “The
Gunfight at Dodge City”). It’s an unusual story for a western. While there’s
plenty of action, the focus is on the inner turmoil of the tormented character
played by McCrea, a man torn between his responsibility to his men and his
fierce hatred of his wife’s killers. The central question Goldsmith poses is “Which
side will win out?” The story moves with the inevitability of a train heading
toward a collision, culminating in a battle that takes place in an eerie ancient
Indian cliff dwelling, which Pvt. Pendleton sarcastically dubs “Fort Massacre.”
And, in an ironic twist, it is Travis, the young man who could never make a
decision, who provides the film’s shattering climax. “Fort Massacre” is a film
well worth watching.
Kino Lorber has done another admirable job bringing this
Cinemascope feature to Blu-ray. The film is for the most part exceptionally
clean with rich colors and the 2.35:1 aspect ratio for Cinemascope gives us
every millimeter of Carl Guthrie’s beautiful cinematography. The soundtrack is
DTS Stereo. There’s no surround sound, and the soundtrack is not all that
dynamic, but Marlin Skiles score is heard to good advantage throughout. As
usual with these Studio Classics Blu-rays the only bonus features are some
trailers for other films in the company’s catalog. It’s too bad. Commentary on
Goldsmith’s screenplay alone would have been worth whatever the extra cost. Nevertheless,
for anyone interested in westerns, particularly the westerns of Joel McCrea
this Blu-ray is a must-have.
(or “RIFFRAFF” as it appears in the titles) opens on a rainy night at the El
Caribe aircraft hanger in Peru. The pilots, ticket agent and a passenger await
the arrival of a man who rushes to the ticket agent and enters the plane
clutching his attaché case as he finds a seat among the cargo and livestock. Midflight,
a buzzer sounds and a pilot discovers the cargo door gone. The remaining
passenger, Charles Hasso (Marc Krah), says the other man jumped. Hasso arrives
in Panama and is briefly interrogated by Major Rues (George Givot) who advises
him to remain in town for further questioning.
the attaché, Hasso makes his way to detective Dan Hammer’s office and hires him
to protect him and asks to meet later at his hotel. Before leaving he pins a
map from the attaché to Hammer’s wall hiding it in plain site among all the
other items where it remains unseen by everyone. Meanwhile, Hammer is hired by American
oil company executive Walter Gredson (Jerome Cowen, Dagwood’s boss George
Radcliffe in the “Blondie” movie series) who owns the map. He wants Hammer to
find Hasso and the map. It turns out the map is worth a fortune in South
American oil revenues.
O’Brien is terrific as Dan Hammer, an American ex-pat living in Panama. He’s as
hard-boiled as private detectives get and is soon approached by pretty blonde
nightclub singer Maxine (Anne Jeffreys), the requisite femme fatal and
girlfriend of the oil executive seeking the map. Walter sends her to watch over
Hammer and follow his progress. Meanwhile, Eric Molinar (Walter Slezac) is also
seeking the map. He has his thugs murder Hasso and traces him back to Hammer
and the oil executives.
has a friend and side-kick, a cabbie named Pop, played by Percy Kilbride.
Kilbride would soon become famous playing Pa Kettle in eight widely popular movies
between 1947 and 1955. Kilbride provides just the right level of laid back comic
relief in an otherwise dark detective thriller. Hammer also has a lazy shaggy
dog which sleeps outside his open office door and Major Rues is on hand
throughout the movie. The relationship between Hammer and Maxine is strictly professional
and Hammer quickly realizes she’s sent to spy on him, but they soon fall for
each other. Hammer takes quite a beating at the hands of Molinar’s thugs until
Maxine discovers the map while helping Hammer get cleaned up.
movie comes to a satisfying conclusion after 80 hard boiled minutes filled with
lots of snappy dialog. The 1947 RKO production was directed by Ted Tetzlaff,
better known as a cinematographer in over 100 movies and director of a handful of
movies. He put his camera skills to good use here as director creating just the
right atmosphere of light and dark and shadows. The black and white image is
well preserved on this burn-to-order DVD released as part of the Warner Archive
Collection. The disc is bare bones, but the movie is worth checking out for the
outstanding black and white photography, terrific story, great cast of
character actors and of course that great title. “Riff-Raff” is a true gem
among 1940s crime thrillers.
Alec Guinness gave so many brilliant dramatic screen performances that many
moviegoers forget that he was also one of the most accomplished comedic actors
the British film industry had ever seen. Although Guinness first gained fame
with star-making roles in David Lean's "Great Expectations" and
"Oliver Twist" (playing Fagin), the bulk of his successes in the
1950s were in classic British comedies such as "The Lavender Hill
Mob", "Kind Hearts and Coronets", "The Ladykillers",
"The Horse's Mouth", "Our Man in Havana", "All at
Sea", "The Captain's Paradise", "The Man in the White
Suit" and "The Lavender Hill Mob". By any standard, a remarkable
roster of great comedies. By the 1960s, however, Guinness concentrated
mostly on dramatic roles. Who could blame him, with prime appearances in David
Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago"? In 1965
he did make one screwball comedy, "Situation Hopeless..But Not
Serious", a WWII-era film that co-starred young up-and-coming Robert
Redford in a supporting role, but the movie didn't particularly resonate with
critics or audiences. His only other concession to the genre of cinematic
farce was "Hotel Paradis0", filmed in 1966 by writer/director Peter
Glenville, who only sporadically made movies. Glenville's most recent cinematic
excursion had been his highly acclaimed 1964 film version of Jean
Anouilh's play "Becket". "Paradiso" was as far away from
that dramatic achievement as one could imagine. It returned Guinness to a genre
that allowed him to re-tune his considerable skills at playing overt
comedy. In fact, Guinness had starred in the original London production of the play in 1956.
The film is adapted from the play "L'Hotel du Libre
Echange", whichwas co-written by Georges Feydeau (who Glenville appears as
in the film, albeit in an uncredited role.) In fact, Alec Guinness had starred in the original London production of the play in 1956. Like the play, the movie is set in the suburbs of Paris in the early 1900s. Guinness plays Benedict Boniface, a sophisticated
milquetoast who lives a comfortable existence with one glaring exceptional
factor: he is constantly henpecked by his shrewish, dominating wife Angelique
(Peggy Mount), who oversees his every move. Benedict suffers in silence, finding a bit of solace by puttering around his garden which adjoins the home of Henri and Marcelle Cotte (Robert Morley and Gina Lollobrigida).They have their own problems: Henri is a negligent husband who is more obsessed with his career as an architect than he is with the considerable charms of his gorgeous wife, who is frustrated by his neglect and who is desperate for some romantic attention. One sunny afternoon when Henri leaves for an overnight business trip to the city, Benedict summons the courage to drop in on Marcelle and express his love for her. She is shocked but doesn't lose any time in agreeing to explore the possibility of an affair with him. Fate favors the would-be lovers when Angelique announces that she, too, is leaving on an overnight trip to look after an ailing sister. Things almost go awry when an unexpected house guest, Mr. Martin (David Byng), arrives to take up the Boniface's on a long ago offer they made to have him stay with him. The trouble is that Martin, a widower, has in tow his brood of four young daughters and their enormous amount of luggage. The Benedicts are horrified and inform Mr. Martin in the most polite manner possible that they simply don't have space to lodge the entire family and that he she consider taking rooms at a hotel in Paris. Through a misunderstanding, the name of Hotel Paradiso is mentioned. This happens to be a sleazy establishment that stays afloat by catering to illicit lovers. It is precisely the place where Benedict intends to spend the night with Marcelle. However, unbeknownst to him, Mr. Martin has mistakenly assumed that Benedict has recommended the hotel as a place for him and his daughters to stay. Benedict and Marcelle meet for dinner at a local restaurant where they briefly enjoy a rather saucy stage act before realizing they might be recognized. They then head off to Hotel Paradiso where they rather awkwardly enter the bedroom in anticipation of carrying out their plans for engaging in the kinds of activity that would surely cause a public scandal if they were to be discovered. Things get complicated quickly. Every time the would-be lovers are about to get down to business, another remarkable coincidence occurs. They include the arrival of Henri, who is staying at the hotel to examine the plumbing. Then Mr. Martin arrives with his four daughters. Even the Benedict's flirty maid shows up with Henri's nephew, who is about to be seduced by the amorous domestic servant. Playwright Georges Feydeau is on hand as he silently observes the goings-on. The film quickly becomes a classically-styled bedroom farce with Benedict and Marcelle now trapped in their room and deftly trying to avoid being seen. There are countless near-misses and close encounters and the inevitable face-to-face meetings that require explaining their presence at the hotel by employing incredulous excuses. Before long, the police end up the hotel and Benedict and Marcelle are arrested, which adds another obstacle to overcome in their unconsummated love affair.
The film was greeted with tepid reviews at the time, with critics citing Glenville's propensity to direct films as though he was still working in a theater. It's true that Glenville does have a somewhat heavy hand in terms of directing lightweight comedy scenarios.However, the movie certainly plays better today simply because no one makes films like this anymore, least of all with the caliber of stars like Guinness and Lollobrigida, who was also quite adept between dramatic roles and lightweight farces. Both actors are at their best here, especially as the pace of the farce picks up pace and the coincidences and obstacles that their characters have to deal with become more incredible and amusing. There is able support from the always-reliable Robert Morley and Akim Tamiroff turns up as the hotel's sleazy manager. However, the show-stealing performance is the hilarious turn by David Byng, whose Mr. Martin is a naive eccentric with a sporadic speech impediment that comes and goes depending upon the state of the weather! It plays a pivotal role in the film's climax. The concluding sequence takes place at the opening of a new play by Georges Feydeau which the principal characters attend together. It leads to a very amusing "sting-in-the-tail" finale with ironic consequences. "Hotel Paradiso" benefits from a lavish production design and a good score by Laurence Rosenthal. It also marked an early career achievement for legendary film editor Anne V. Coates. In summary, a most entertaining film from an era in which there was a place for sophistication in cinematic comedies.
The Warner Archive DVD is region-free and includes the original trailer. The packaging also retains the wonderful original poster art by Frank Frazetta.
“He Ran All the Way” (1951) was forties’ tough guy John
Garfield’s last cinematic performance. It’s a taut, tense, claustrophobic drama
about Nick Robey, a cop-killer who takes a family hostage in a small apartment,
as he tries to figure a way to lam out of town. As Garfield’s swan song it’s a
compelling performance, and ironically there are eerie hints throughout the
film of the real life crises he was facing at the time. More on that later.
The film begins with Robey’s mother (Gladys George)
hollering at him to get out of bed and go look for work. She talks to him like
a worthless bum and the first time we see him, Robey is a harassed, seemingly
helpless character without a clue what he ought to be doing with his life. When
he leaves his apartment his friend, Al Molin (Norman Lloyd) catches him on the
street and reminds him they do have
something to do. Almost as if against his will, Robey finds himself with a gun
in his hand, as they march into a warehouse and rob a guy carrying a briefcase
full of money. The job is botched from the start. A cop shoots Molin in the
back and Robey plugs the cop and runs for it.
James Wong Howe’s stark black and white close up cinematography
showing the sweat on Garfield’s face and the look of fear in his eyes and John
Berry’s close, unyielding direction perfectly convey the rage and paranoia of a
desperate man on the run. Robey stays on the crowded city streets as long as he
can, then ducks into an indoor swimming pool where he picks up Peggy Dobbs
(Shelley Winters). He figures if he has a girl with him, he has a better chance
of not being spotted by the cops. He manages to take her home, where
unexpectedly he learns she lives with her mom (Selena Royal) and dad (Wallace Ford)
and kid brother (Bobby Hyatt).
The family, seeing that Peggy has a new boyfriend,
obligingly goes to the movies, leaving them alone. Peggy is hopelessly naïve as
Garfield grills her about the family and her life. When she turns on the radio
and they start to dance, she tells him to loosen up. “I dance the way I wanna
dance,” he snaps and turns the music off. That’s the kind of guy he is. When
the family members come back from the movies, he looks out the window and sees
them on the street talking to two men. He thinks they’re cops and he pulls a
gun on mom, pop and the kid when they come upstairs. That’s when the trouble
starts and unfortunately that’s when the story starts to unravel.
After keeping them hostage overnight, he lets the old man
and Peg go to work next morning so as not to arouse suspicion, threatening to
kill the others if they give anything away. Frankly, at this point, the
situation becomes too contrived and the characters, Robey included, too unbelievable
and too unlikeable for anyone to really care what happens to them. The Wallace
Ford Character and his wife are too cowardly, Peggy is at first too naïve and
then later too daring or foolhardy to be believable. And Robey is at turns too
much of a whiner on the one hand and too much of a thug on the other.
As noted earlier, “He Ran All the Way,” a movie about a
man hounded by authorities and grim fate, mirrors in many ways the real-life
situation Garfield was living through at the time. His career was on the skids,
he had a bad heart condition, and he was being investigated by Joe McCarthy’s
House UnAmerican Activities Committee for his involvement with the Communist
Party. Like Nick Robey, Garfield was trapped in a web of circumstances from
which he would never escape. Garfield would be dead of a heart attack a year later
at the age of 39.
This film generally gets great reviews, in part, I
suspect because it was Garfield’s last, and also because, in another ironic
twist, it was written by Dalton Trumbo, who had his own troubles with the
McCarthy Committee. He went to jail as one of the famous Hollywood 10 for not naming
names. Trumbo and co-writer Hugh Butler had to use the name of Guy Endore in
the credits as a front. Working from a novel by Sam Ross, they tried to keep
the tension high, but in the end it all sort of comes apart, and by the time
it’s over you’re sorry more of the characters don’t suffer Robey’s fate. They
just plain get on your nerves. But maybe that was the point. The world created
by Trumbo, Butler and Ross, was a world you wouldn’t want to live in anyway. Maybe
you’d be better off dead. Come to think of it, wasn’t that the point of most of
Kino Lorber has outdone themselves with this stunning Studio
Classics Blu-Ray presentation of “He Ran All the Way.” The restored transfer is
absolutely flawless. The picture is crystal clear and the crisp black and white
photography is rendered in film-like detail. Sound is mono. Unfortunately there
are no extras except for a trailer for the film and for two others, including
“A Bullet for Joey.”
Overall, I can think of several other Garfield films I’d
recommend over this one, including “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” and “Body
and Soul.” But despite its flaws, I’d recommend getting this one just to round
out your Garfield collection and to enjoy, perhaps, one of the best black white
Blu-ray discs on the market.
The contemporary horror film genre has become an endurance test for seeing how much blood and splatter can be contained in each stomach-churning release. Gone are the days when such films were populated by literate scripts and iconic stars. Fortunately, home video releases still allow us to revel in the glory days of the horror genre, which came to a gradual end in the mid-to-late 1970s. The genre reached its first peak in the great Universal Monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s before being reinvented for a new generation in "gorious colour" by Hammer studios in Britain. Then American International Pictures got on board with enormously successful adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories produced by Roger Corman and generally starring Vincent Price, who became a horror icon during this period. This era also saw the rise of Amicus, another British production house that sought to emulate the success of Hammer by often producing horror anthology tales that also starred icons of the genre. Still, by the mid-1970s, such movies were growing stale with younger viewers as a new generation of filmmakers specialized in the kind of gory tales that would have been deemed unreleasable even a few years before. The 1974 production of "Madhouse" represents the last desperate gasp of the type of horror film that had grown so popular over the previous decade. It stars two genuine legends, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, who heretofore had been denied sharing the screen together despite having jointly appeared in anthology horror flicks. Robert Quarry, who was being groomed as their heir apparent by American International on the basis of his portrayal of Count Yorga, also had a prominent role in "Madhouse". The production, however, was far from a joyous swansong for the film that marked Price's final association with American International. In fact, the entire movie was deemed such a mess by those involved that it's a testament to their talents that it was even completed. The film was a joint venture between A.I.P. and Amicus, two studios with very different philosophies about making movies. There was tension from day one and the film went into production with a hastily cobbled together script that no one found satisfactory. Indeed, having received the script on Friday, the actors were expected to begin shooting on Monday. Robert Quarry was so disgusted by the lame dialogue that he took it upon himself to ghost write major portions of the script, an act that was looked upon favorably by his co-stars who asked him to do the same for their characters.. Jim Clark, who is primarily known as a talented editor for many esteemed films, was assigned the thankless task of bringing this mess-in-the-making to the screen. He was hobbled by a disgruntled and dispirited cast as well as quarreling executives.
"Madhouse" was originally titled "The Revenge of Dr. Death", a much more appropriate title. The film opens with Price as legendary film star Paul Toombs hosting a New Years Eve party in his Hollywood mansion. Toombs has become a star largely based on his recurring role as Dr. Death, a hideous murderer who stalks his victim in a distinctive skull-like mask. He no sooner announces his engagement to a beautiful actress, Ellen Mason, (Julie Crosthwait) when he is distastefully informed by porn producer Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry) that the bride-to-be used to be one of his top stars. Disgusted by this revelation, Toombs publicly chastises Ellen and the two storm off upstairs. Minutes later, Ellen is decapitated by someone in a Dr. Death costume. The prime suspect is Toombs, who is blamed for the murder and who suffers from a convenient bout of amnesia that leads him to believe he must have been guilty of the crime. He is committed to a mental institution for years. When he is released, he is convinced by his best friend and favorite screenwriter Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing) that he should accept an offer to revive the Dr. Death character for television. Ironically the show is being produced by Oliver Quayle, who is now a reputable figure in the industry. Toombs initially spawns the offer, partly out of revulsion for Quayle but primarily because he fears that playing Dr. Death again might inspire him to commit more violent crimes. Nevertheless, Herbert, who is now also an aspiring actor, convinces Toombs that he is up to the challenge. As the show goes into production, a series of high profile murders occurs with the victims turning out to be people who have come into contact with Toombs. They include an opportunistic young actress (Linda Hayden), who tries to seduce and blackmail him and her equally opportunistic step parents. As the body count rises everyone suspects that Toombs is the killer but Scotland Yard can't pin the crimes on him. It's apparent to the viewer, however, that Toombs is the victim, not the killer. This is typical for protagonists played by Price. Even if they are murderers, it's generally the result of them having been driven insane by unscrupulous people they had trusted. "Madhouse" takes this formula to an extreme. At times it plays like "Gaslight" on steroids. You would also have to be the least adept sleuth since Inspector Clouseau if you can't spot who the real villain is practically from frame one.
"Madhouse" follows the style of recently successful Price films from the era, primarily the Dr. Phibes movies and his acclaimed hit "Theatre of Blood" which had been released the previous year. The key component is a sense of campiness, though in "Madhouse" the actors play it straight and don't give overly broad comedic interpretations of their roles. Price actually has an interesting character to play, as Toombs is a multi-faceted man with a painful past and present to contend with. He does yeoman work, giving one of his finest late career performances (he even gets to croon a love song that is played on old Victrolas!). Cushing is largely underutilized until the climax when the two stars share a terrific scene. Stuck between these two legends, Robert Quarry doesn't have much to do other than sip cocktails and make snarky remarks. Still, having these three stars on screen together makes for a delightful experience even if the material is often predictable. In fact, it's the sheer predictability of the script that makes the movie so enjoyable. This is the kind of horror flick in which nubile and defenseless young woman walk through dark houses to see what went bump in the night. It's gory and bloody in keeping up with the times, but somehow the gore is never as repugnant as it is in slasher and "dead teenager" flicks that would come to redefine the horror genre. It should also be pointed out that Price's Dr. Death makeup effects are truly impressive, as is the gimmick employed throughout the film of having clips from Price's old collaborations with Roger Corman shown as examples of Paul Toombs's career highlights. (A nice touch is acknowledging the late great Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, who appear in these sequences, in the opening credits of "Madhouse".)
Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release is outstanding on all levels. It features a commentary track by horror film historian David Del Valle that is both entertaining and informative. Del Valle personally knew many of the people involved in the production and his track is like a master class in horror filmmaking. There is also a short but very good retrospective documentary about the making of the film in which Del Valle is interviewed along with another esteemed horror film scholar, C. Courtney Joyner. Both of them provide plenty of fascinating facts about the troubled making of the movie, which was renamed "Madhouse" at the eleventh hour by A.I.P. executives who had already printed publicity materials bearing the film's previous title. The Blu-ray also contains a gallery of other Vincent Price films available through Kino Lorber.
"Madhouse" may have been deemed a second rate horror film back in the day but, given the dearth of larger-than-life stars in today's movie industry, it allows retro movie lovers to revel in the onscreen pairing of two truly iconic screen legends. It also represents the type of movie of which it can be said, "They don't make 'em like that any more". I only wish they did.
I've long had admiration for the work of actor Robert Shaw ever since he impressed me at age 8 with his chilling interpretation of the SPECTRE psychotic killer Red Grant in "From Russia With Love". Shaw could always be counted on to deliver a fine performance even if the material he chose was sometimes underwhelming. Shaw was also a talented writer and playwright, having won acclaim for his play "The Man in the Glass Booth", which was inspired by the war criminal trial of Adolf Eichmann. Shaw, like many actors, participated in many questionable films in order to enable his real passion, which was to bring avante garde movie projects to fruition, even if they only appealed to the art cinema crowd. One of Shaw's most interesting vehicles is one of his least seen. "Figures in a Landscape" was his 1970 adaptation of an allegorical novel by Barry England that abounded with reference to the (then) on-going Vietnam war. Shaw dispensed with that aspect of the novel and instead played up its more opaque aspects, particularly those that concern the two protagonists in what is basically a two-character adventure. The film opens with Shaw and co-star Malcolm McDowell on the run in an unnamed country being pursued by unnamed forces (presumably the police and/or military) for unspecified crimes. One senses they are political prisoners in a totalitarian state but this is never addressed directly. Shaw is MacConnachie ("Mac"), a middle-aged man with a colorful past that often found him on the opposite side of the law. McDowell is Ansell, a twenty-something free spirited type from London whose social values are the polar opposite of Mac's old fashioned values. When we first see the men, they are running at a high rate of speed and have to contend with the major obstacle of having their hands bound behind their backs. We never learn how they effected their escape and from whom but these are just several key questions that Shaw's screenplay goes to lengths in terms of not filling in the audience on the details. The two men, bound by their mutual need for one another, bicker and bark at each other like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in "The Defiant Ones" with Mac channeling his future performance as Quint in "Jaws" by constantly attacking the younger man for being the product of a soft generation. As these types of films generally play out, Mac and Ansell are able to win some small victories through mutual efforts and begin to develop a grudging but sincere admiration for each other. (In one of the script's few instances of humor, we learn that Mac is somewhat of a prude by the way he chastises the younger generation for the sexual promiscuity afforded by "The Pill".) They finally figure out a way to free their bonds and obtain food, water and arms. However, they find themselves relentlessly pursued by a helicopter piloted by faceless, nameless men who coordinate a widespread army of pursuers on the ground The image of the helicopter haunts Mac and Ansell throughout their desperate race across a harsh landscape that contains both deserts and high, snow-covered mountains. Throughout their ordeal, the men come to know each other better though Shaw's screenplay, perhaps not coincidentally, gives his character far meatier material than McDowell gets to work with. Shaw is at his best in the quiet sequences, reminiscing about his beloved wife who waits for his return home.
The film falls short of its Kafkaesque pretensions but is never less than engaging, thanks in no small part to the skill of director Joseph Losey in keeping the bizarre aspects of the scripts from becoming too alienating for the audience. There is also superb cinematography that does justice to the magnificent, if sometimes foreboding, Spanish landscapes and a fine score by the estimable Richard Rodney Bennett. It's unclear what Shaw was trying to say in this sometimes puzzling film that at times evokes aspects of Patrick McGoohan's classic TV series "The Prisoner". This jumbled aspect of the story robs the film of some of its potential dramatic payoffs but there is real satisfaction in watching Shaw and McDowell in parts that are this meaty. We only learn enough about each character to tantalize us even further regarding how they ended up in this dilemma and it's probably best that Shaw never provides any easy answers. However, some of the men's actions and interactions cry out for a bit more clarification especially in the exciting climax when Mac is motivated to take on downing the hated helicopter even at an unnecessary risk to his own life.
"Figures in a Landscape" has been released by Kino Lorber on Blu-ray. As with most of the company's titles, this one boasts a superb transfer that does justice to the impressive filming locations. Unfortunately, no extras are included. A pity because this film cries out for a commentary track that could have covered not only the movie itself but also Shaw's remarkable career, one that never completely fulfilled its potential because of his own personal demons.
Business” features Gene Hackman and Mikhail Baryshnikov in an espionage
thriller directed by Nicholas Meyer. The Cold War is over and a former CIA agent
is called out of retirement to exchange an imprisoned Russian agent for a
captured American pilot. The movie was released in 1991 just as the Soviet
Union ceased to exist and the Russian Federation was born. Old tensions between
East and West remain and the movie tries to be a tense “Cold War” style
is Sam Boyd, a retired CIA agent who is using his skills as a corporate spy.
Mikhail Baryshnikov is Pyotr Ivanovich Grushenko, a former Soviet spy serving
time in an American prison. Sam is called out of retirement to exchange Pyotr
for the American being held by the Russians. Glasnost and perestroika indeed,
or so it would appear. Sam escorts Pyotr to the recently reunited Germany along
with a case filled with a million dollars when he realizes they are being tricked
by the Russians. It turns out the exchange is a fake and they are involved in an
elaborate double cross and money laundering scheme involving the Russians and
on their trail are the American and Russian agents attempting to get the money back
and to kill Sam and Pyotr who form an alliance and make their way through
Germany and on to Paris. It’s not exactly clear what they plan on doing once
they get there or how they plan on getting away with their lives and the movie’s
ending does little to clear things up. The main problem is that the story was
obviously meant to be a typical Cold War thriller. Nicholas Meyer does a good
job as writer and director, but it’s clear that the story just was not going to
work after the Cold War ended during production. What do you do with a Cold War
thriller after the Soviet Union ceases to exist? It was an unfortunate time to
produce such a movie.
is a great actor and Baryshnikov is generally good, but they both appear bored
and don’t really look like they’re into it. The supporting actors are almost comical
in a painful way in their attempts to play it straight, but one can predict
everything that’s going to happen before it plays out. The movie is trying to
be a kind of comic buddy movie, but it never quite works out. Géraldine Danon is on hand as a French woman who turns
out to be Pyotr’s daughter, but she serves no serious purpose other than to
launder the money through a Swiss bank to make it untraceable (I guess).
Smith is on hand as Sam’s CIA contact and is good in just about everything he’s
in. Terry O’Quinn is also on hand, but other than being the mastermind behind
the money laundering scheme, he doesn’t have much to do. The central plot is
too full of holes and none of it really makes any sense. Why not just keep the
cash and hide somewhere in luxury? Instead Sam and Pyotr keep exposing
themselves by meeting with old friends and known associates in cities filled to
the brim with spies.
movie looks fine on Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray and showcases some fine on-location
work in Germany and France. The night-time street scenes in Germany are very
nicely shot and the movie is an easy going 98 minutes. The disc contains a
featurette with interviews by a very bored Hackman as well as out-takes, sound
bites and the trailer. Interestingly, the trailer attempts to sell the film as
a buddy comedy and features a scene not in the movie with the leads living in
retirement on a tropical island. I’d say catch this movie if you have to see
everything by Gene Hackman, Mikhail Baryshnikov and director Nicholas Meyer.
"The Strangler" is a long-forgotten 1964 low-budget exploitation movie originally released by Allied Artists. It has developed a bit of a cult following among retro movie lovers who will be delighted that the film has come to DVD through the Warner Archive. The movie was designed to capitalize on the notorious Boston Strangler murders that were in the news at the time. However, what sets the movie apart from other cheap thrills productions is the fact that it is intelligently scripted and presents its villain as a highly complex character, filled with nuances and psychological tortures. Victor Buono, who had made a sensational film debut the previous year in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", gets a rare starring role as the titular character. He's Leo Kroll, a meek, obese young man who barely makes a living as a lab assistant in big city hospital. He's quiet, unassuming and superficially friendly even though he has no real friends in his life. Our first glimpse of Leo is rather startling. We see him inside the apartment of an attractive young woman who is undressing, not knowing that she has a stalker on the premises. Leo suddenly emerges and strangles her with her own stockings. We learn that Leo is behind similar serial murders of young women in the area but the police are at a dead end. Leo's private life is pure hell. He lives with his aging mother (Ellen Corby) who controls virtually every aspect of his life. She even ensures that their apartment is a shrine to herself, adorned with numerous photos of her. When the film opens, she is confined to a hospital room and expects Leo to visit her every night right after work. When he takes a night off to indulge in his murderous past time, his mother's abrasive accusations of neglect seem to bother him more than the heinous crimes he has committed. He clearly hates and resents his mother. She never fails to remind him that he is a loser: overweight, homely and friendless. She tells him that she is the only person he can rely on and trust. She also warns him against getting involved with women, saying that any girl who would date him had to be after his money. Leo also has a peculiar fetish- he likes to leave dolls at the scene of his murderS, each representing the woman he has just killed. He obtains them by winning a game of chance at a local arcade where his skill at the game seems to impress the girls behind the counter, one of whom, Tally (Davey Davison), he clearly has a crush on, which inevitably puts her on Leo's endangered species list.
There weren't many diverse roles that Buono could play in his career. Generally, the baby-faced actor was stuck portraying varying incarnations of a "man child". However, he did carve out some memorable performances playing largely comedic villains in shows like "Batman", "The Wild, Wild West" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.". He worked steadily, occasionally landing a mature role in major films such as "Robin and the Seven Hoods" and "Four For Texas" in which he appeared with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Buono, who died young at age 42 in 1982, arguably gives the best performance of his career in "The Strangler", making a man who commits despicable acts seem almost sympathetic. When he finally asks a woman he barely knows to marry him, her rejection of him is truly a heartbreaking scene. Leo ends up on the short list of police suspects but manages to elude arrest. He even demands to take a lie detector test, which he passes due to the fact that he has no feelings of guilt whatsoever. His motive for murder isn't even to alleviate the sexual repression he feels. It's simply his way of dealing with mommy issues. Each woman he slays is a stand-in for the mother he deplores. Under the highly competent direction of Burt Topper, "The Strangler" boasts some impressive performances by a largely unknown cast. The police sequences, which highlight David McLean as the over-worked cop assigned to crack the case, ring with authenticity. The B&W film also has good cinematography and creative use of lighting effect. Yet it is Buono who dominates the production with a performance that would have won critical raves if it were seen in an "A" list production. The film is consistently entertaining and at times highly suspenseful. The Warner Archive release is top-notch but lacks any extras. A commentary track on this title would be most welcome for a future edition.
In the early 1960s director John Frankenheimer emerged as one of Hollywood's most exciting talents. Consider the remarkably diverse films he made in a four year period between 1962 and 1966: "Birdman of Alcatraz", a somewhat fictionalized but extremely compelling prison drama with an Oscar nominated performance by Burt Lancaster; the classic thriller "The Manchurian Candidate" which perfectly analyzed the type of paranoia that still defines American politics today; "Seven Days in May", yet another classic political thriller that also retains its relevance; "The Train", a superb WWII film about the French Resistance attempting to thwart a Nazi's theft of priceless national treasures, "Seconds", Frankenheimer's brilliant and underrated "Twilight Zone"-like chiller and "Grand Prix", the big budget, star-packed racing extravaganza that was unlike any of his previous films (it was in color, for one). For a while, it seemed Frankenheimer could do no wrong. However, by the late 1960s, he began to stumble. His forthy comedy "The Extraordinary Seaman" was, by any rational evaluation, a complete disaster and was deemed largely unreleasable by MGM. His next major effort, "The Gypsy Moths" reunited him with Burt Lancaster, star of some of his greatest successes. However, despite having many merits, the film failed to click with audiences and critics. Suddenly, Frankenheimer was no longer the "Golden Boy" who represented the new age of daring young American directors. In the mid-1970s, he got two more bites at the apple with "French Connection II" and the terrorist thriller "Black Sunday". He delivered the goods artistically but both films did not amass the anticipated grosses and Frankenheimer was increasingly relegated to helming middling films in return for a quick pay check. He later confessed that some of his problems were self-imposed due to his dependency on alcohol. As his feature film career deteriorated, Frankenheimer found salvation through directing acclaimed, high profile TV movies that saw him win four Emmy Awards. He did have one late career theatrical hit with the spy thriller "Ronin" in 1998. He passed away in 2002, having had the satisfaction of seeing his work re-evaluated by a new generation of critics with "Seconds", in particular, finally winning the type of praise that had eluded reviewers when initially released in 1966.
One of Frankenheimer's least-discussed films, "The Fourth War", has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The movie went into production at the very end of the Cold War. By the time it was released in 1990, the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, which is probably why the audience is informed that the story takes place in 1988. Although the film is set up to be a grudge match between two military tough guys on opposite sides of the political spectrum, the central character is Col. Jack Knowles (Roy Scheider), a spit-and-polish veteran U.S. Army officer who arrives at his new command, a remote base on the border of West Germany and Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia. Knowles is a complete hard ass with Patton-like disciplinary measures he doesn't hesitate to enact for any soldier who doesn't abide by his rules. But we learn later that Knowles is a bit of a hypocrite. Seems he has a reputation for being a loose cannon who consistently defies orders and regulations in order to carry out procedures his own way. He's been booted from several commands and this is his last chance. It's an opportunity that has been afforded him by his Vietnam War buddy Gen. Hackworth (Harry Dean Stanton), whose life Knowles saved back in the day. Knowles shows his gratitude by immediately violating orders and taking a small patrol past the "no go" boundary that abuts the Czech border. By happenstance, the group witnesses a disturbing sight: a dissident is racing toward the West German border over snow covered fields with Soviet soldiers relentlessly hunting him down on horseback. The man almost makes it to freedom but is shot dead by the Soviets. Outraged, Knowles pulls his pistol and is about to initiate a shooting war. His second in command, Lt. Col. Clark (Tim Reid) realizes the international implications that would follow and convinces Knowles to holster his weapon- but Knowles is still outraged. He tosses a snowball at the Soviet commanding officer, Col. Valachev (Jurgen Prochnow). This juvenile act of protest will lead to a relentless war of wills between both men, each of whom studies the other's history. Before long, Knowles is making surreptitious nocturnal one-man missions behind the border. At first he causes mischief by holding Soviet guards at gunpoint and humiliating them. But his actions become increasingly risky, culminating in his destroying a guard tower and nearly killing the men in it. Valachev begins to respond in kind, sneaking over the border to humiliate Knowles. By this point, Lt. Col. Clark suspects that Knowles is becoming irrational and carrying out forbidden missions. General Clark dresses down his old friend and tells him that if he makes one more slip-up, he won't be able to save him from being drummed out of the military. Knowles is momentarily shaken but can't resist resuming his activities over the border.On one such "mission", he meets a desperate young woman who is trying to sneak back into Czechoslovakia. She's Elena (Lara Harris), who explains she has to rescue her little daughter who is being cared for by her grandmother. Elena explains that her mother is now too ill to take care of the child and she worries that the girl will be placed in a state home. The gruff Knowles is moved by her plight and agrees to help her in her quest- a promise that ultimately leads to dramatic consequences and a one-on-one confrontation with Valachev that could reignite the Cold War.
While "The Fourth War" is not of a caliber of John Frankenheimer's early classics, the film has much to recommend about it. The movie did not make much of an impact when it first opened and has remained under the radar screen ever since. It needs a few champions and I'm happy to be one of them. For one, it's intelligently written and presents two interesting characters, though we never learn much about Valachev. Knowles, on the other hand, is an emotional basket case hiding behind a tough guy persona. He's friendless and desperate to find meaning in life. In one poignant scene, he celebrates his birthday in his quarters, accompanied only by a bottle of booze and a kid's party hat on his head as he tries vainly to have a civil conversation by phone with a grown son who is clearly not enamored with him. He's a tragic, fascinating figure- a small scale General Curtis Lemay, who has channeled his demons into a personal crusade against communism. Scheider gives a terrific performance and gets fine support from Prochnow, Reid and Harris, whose character provides the catalyst for a clever plot twist late in the film. Harry Dean Stanton is terrific especially in the sequence in which he locks horns with Scheider. It's riveting all the way. Director Frankenheimer turns the Canadian frozen tundra into a convincing replica of the Eastern European landscape and milks a good deal of suspense from the proceedings, culminating in a spectacular, testosterone-laced battle between the two antagonists in full view of their respective armies.
"The Fourth War" is well worth a look. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks sensational. Bonus extras are the original trailer and a gallery of other trailers for Scheider films available from the company.
Long regarded as one of Roger Corman's most ambitious and poignant films, "X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes" comes to Blu-ray as an impressive special edition from Kino Lorber. Corman became a legend by overseeing production of countless low-budget horror and exploitation films beginning in the late 1950s. What the movies lacked in budgetary aspects they more than made up for in terms of intelligent scripts and often creative technical processes that more than compensated for the skimpy budgets. Corman's films not only gave early breaks to a new generation of actors and filmmakers, but he also helped resurrect flagging careers of veteran actors, one of whom was Ray Milland, who stars in this film. Milland was a Best Actor Oscar winner for the 1945 movie "The Lost Weekend" but by the 1960s his boxoffice appeal had waned. By teaming with Corman on "The Premature Burial" in 1962, Milland found he enjoyed acting in horror-based flicks. They also helped him pay the bills and maintain his status as a leading man, albeit in vehicles that critics generally dismissed as "B" movies. If Milland never became a legend through his association with horror films as Vincent Price did, his presence in these movies kept him on the radar screen and allowed him to occasionally nab fine roles in major Hollywood productions such as "Love Story", "Gold" and "The Last Tycoon". The success of "The Premature Burial" led to Milland reuniting with Corman for "X" the following the year.
Original Gold Key tie-in comic book.
"X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes" presents Milland as Dr. James Xavier, a respected surgeon in a big city hospital who has an obsession for exploring the greater meaning of life. He is consumed by a belief that if people could be empowered to see through solid matter, they might learn the secrets the universe. Xavier has been working under a grant to explore these possibilities and the result is a serum that, if administered as eye drops, might allow a person to obtain X-ray vision. Against the advice of his colleagues who claim the serum hasn't been perfected yet, Xavier boldly administers the drops in his own eyes. The results are positive. He finds that, to a limited degree, he can indeed see through solid matter. However, the effects are temporary and unpredictable. Xavier tempts fate by continuing to up the dosage. This results in his being able to achieve extraordinary results. He finds he can see inside the human body and uses his skill to help correct misdiagnosed patients. His boss, head surgeon Dr. Willard Benson (John Hoyt) is skeptical of his claims and his best friend, Dr. Sam Brant (Harold J. Stone) refuses to assist him in his experiments on the basis that he perceives Xavier is suffering from psychological problems based on the serum he has been taking. In fact, Xavier is slowly being driven mad. By being able to see within virtually every object and person, he finds the mental anguish to be excruciating. He can't turn it off at will and is subject to often seeing the world through blinding psychedelic patterns that result in him acting irrational. His sole ally is his colleague Dr. Diane Fairfax (Diana Van der Vlis), a colleague who seems to have a romantic interest in him. Diane attempts to talk Xavier into stopping the experiments but he feels compelled to continue in the hope that eventually he will be able to unlock the secrets of life. Tragedy strikes when Xavier's irrational behavior results in the accidental death of a friend. Because he flees the scene, he becomes wanted for murder. By this point, the serum has wreaked havoc on his eyes, which now look surrealistic. To hide them, he wears an omnipresent pair of over-sized sunglasses. Desperate and alone, Xavier meets a carnival barker, Crane (Don Rickles), who soon understands the extraordinary power he possesses. Crane, an opportunist, convinces Xavier to appear at the carnival and use his power as a money-making gimmick. Xavier is appalled but consents out of financial necessity. However, when Crane begins to exploit sick people, Xavier flees the scene. Diane tracks him down and the two hurry to Las Vegas where Xaveri's X-ray vision results in him winning big. However, he doesn't know when to quit and suspicious casino staffers challenge him, turning his triumph into a debacle.The film's conclusion finds Xavier in a high speed car chase across the desert, pursued by police vehicle and helicopters. He stumbles on a religious revival meeting being held in a tent by a charismatic, fanatical preacher (John Dierkes), whose sudden influence over Xavier results in the film's controversial and shocking final scene.
"X" is a fine film on all counts. Corman, who not only produced but also directed, never allows the fantastic premise of the story to drift into the area of the absurd. To his credit, Milland plays his role with the dignity he would have afforded to an "A" list part in a big budget film. He gives a fine and compelling performance, as does everyone in the supporting cast including Rickles, who reminds us that he was once a dramatic actor before honing his skills as an insult comic. The intelligent script aspires to deal with issues that go beyond the standard horror/sci-fi film format. In this respect, it should be viewed on par with another similar film, "The Incredible Shrinking Man". The movie also benefits from creative special effects, a fine score by Les Baxter and impressive cinematography by the legendary Floyd Crosby.
The film's final frames are still the subject of debate among retro movie lovers today.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is joy to view, not only because of the excellent transfer, but also due to the inclusion of two separate commentary tracks. On the first Corman discusses the film in detail, and with great affection. He also talks about his long term relationship with American International Pictures, a studio that allowed him virtually complete creative control over his productions. The result was a mutually beneficial partnership that lasted many years as the studio and Corman helped define each other. The second audio commentary track is by film historian Tim Lucas, whose knowledge not only of this specific film but of the genre itself is highly impressive. Not surprisingly, his grasp of the minor details involving the film's production exceeds that of Corman himself, who admits on his track that time has made his memory of certain aspects of the movie a bit hazy. (He incorrectly states that this was Don Rickles' first feature film, when, in fact, it was his fourth, having appeared in such high profile movies as "Run Silent, Run Deep" and "The Rat Race".) Both Corman and Lucas discuss in detail the film's controversial final frames, which I will not discuss here for fear of providing a spoiler. There is also a welcome video interview with director Joe Dante, who professes his love for the film from the first time he saw it as a kid. Dante also points out that the movie was originally titled simply "X" and remained so even in the print itself. He informs us that the subtitle "... The Man with the X-Ray Eyes" was added at the last minute for the print campaigns only. A segment from Dante's popular web site Trailers From Hell presents the movie's original trailer with an introduction and commentary by another contemporary director, Mick Garris. The trailer also appears separately and when viewing it, one becomes of aware of how American International included the film's only humorous sequence simply for use in sexing up the trailer. It involves Xavier and Diane at a house party where Xavier finds his X-ray vision allows him to see everyone naked. Refreshingly, his ethics don't outweigh his libido and he does what any other guy would do: he keeps gawking. The trailer emphasizes this brief sequence as only an American International production could do. Another bonus included on the Blu-ray is the film's original prologue, a rather bizarre and pedantic slog that resembles those creaky old science documentaries that baby boomers were forced to watch in school auditoriums. The seemingly endless piece is boring and bland and Corman used excellent judgment in cutting it. Nevertheless, it makes for fascinating viewing today.
"X" was an important early success for Roger Corman. That it still stands the test of time as fine entertainment today is a testament to his skills as a producer and director.
Sam Spiegel was one of the most revered and accomplished producers in Hollywood history. His achievements included such classics as "On the Waterfront", "The African Queen", "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Lawrence of Arabia". His body of work, though not nearly as extensive as that of some other producers, was notable in the sense that Spiegel thought big and shot for the moon when it came to bringing to the screen stories that spoke to the human condition. Following the triumphant release of "Lawrence" in 1962, Spiegel did not make another film for four years. When he did, the movie - "The Chase"- turned out to be a star-packed drama that won over neither critics or audiences. Spiegel had a more ambitious idea for his next production, a screen adaptation of the best-selling WWII thriller "The Night of the Generals" by Hans Helmut Kirst. Spiegel had the inspired idea of reuniting his "Lawrence of Arabia" co-stars Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif. They were reluctant to take on the project, but they certainly owed him. Both were virtual unknowns until Spiegel gave them the roles that made them international stars. Spiegel also added to the mix an impressive cast of esteemed British actors ranging from veterans such as Donald Pleasence and Charles Gray to up-and-coming young actors Tom Courtenay and Joanna Pettet. He chose Anatole Litvak to direct. Litvak had been making films for decades and had a few notable hits such as "Sorry, Wrong Number", "Anastasia" and "The Snake Pit". Spiegel being Spiegel ensured that the production benefited from a large budget and an appropriate running time (148 minutes) that would allow the story to unfold in a measured process.
"The Night of the Generals" is certainly a unique spin on WWII films. There are no battles or major action sequences, save for a harrowing sequence in which the German army systematically destroys part of the Warsaw Ghetto. Instead, it's very much a character study populated by characters who are, indeed, very interesting. The film opens with a tense sequence set in occupied Warsaw. The superintendent of an over-crowded apartment building accidentally overhears the brutal murder of a local prostitute in a room upstairs. From a hiding place he witnesses the killer walk past him. He does not see the man's face but recognizes his uniform: he is a general in the German army. The man keeps this information to himself on the logical assumption that divulging it might mean his death sentence. However, under questioning from the army investigator, Major Grau (Omar Sharif), he tells the shocking details of what he witnessed. From this moment, Grau becomes obsessed with finding the killer. Grau may be a German officer, but he is a pure cynic when it comes to the Nazi cause and the brutal methods being employed to win the war. He can't control the larger picture of how the war is being waged but he can control what is in his jurisdiction: bringing to justice the man who committed this one especially savage murder. Grau soon centers on three suspects. The first is General von Seiditz-Gabler (Charles Gray, channeling his future Blofeld), an effete, well-connected opportunist who is in a loveless marriage to his dominating wife Eleanore (Coral Browne). Then there is General Kahlenberg (Donald Pleasence), a man of slight build and low-key personality who has some eccentric personal habits that may include murder. Last, and most intriguing, is General Tanz (Peter O'Toole), a much-loathed and much-feared darling of Hitler's inner circle whose ruthless methods with dealing with civilian populations disgust his colleagues. Tanz has been sent to control or obliterate the Warsaw Ghetto.
The screenplay (which includes contributions by an uncredited Gore Vidal) is a bit disjointed and cuts back and forth to the present day in which we see a French police inspector, Morand (Phillippe Noiret), investigating the case twenty years later as he tries to tie together Grau's findings with dramatic developments that occurred during his handling of the case. Morand also appears in the war era sequences, having befriended Grau, who does not seem at all disturbed when he learns that Morand is actually a key figure in the French Resistance. Grau becomes particularly intrigued by General Ganz. He is an elitist snob who is devoid of any humor or compassion. A workaholic with seemingly no human weaknesses, Tanz is ostensibly under the command of his superior officer, Gabler, but it becomes clear that his political connections make him the top general in Warsaw. Major Grau interviews all three suspects and finds that any of them could be the murderer. When he becomes too intrusive, he is conveniently promoted and transferred to Paris, presumably to shut down his investigation. However, as the fortunes of war decline for the Third Reich, the top brass is eventually moved to Paris and Grau resumes his investigation when he discovers that prostitutes are being brutally murdered there as well. There is a parallel story that accompanies that of the murder investigation. It centers on Corporal Hartmann (Tom Courtenay), a young soldier who has been reluctantly acclaimed to be a national hero. It seems he was the last surviving member of his unit after a bloody battle. The brass used him as a propaganda tool, bestowing medals on him for heroic actions. In fact, he is a self-proclaimed coward whose only goal is to stay alive through the war. Hartmann confesses this to his superior, General Kahlenberg, who is amused by his honesty. He assigns him to be General Tanz's personal valet and orders him to show Tanz the history and sights of Paris. Neither he nor Tanz wants to partake in the venture, but Gabler orders Tanz to take a few days vacation, largely because he despises the man's presence. The scenes in which Hartmann tries to appease the mercurial Tanz without making any missteps are fraught with tension and suspense. Tanz is a fascinating character, presumably devoid of the vices most men have. However, in the course of their time together, Hartmann realizes that Tanz is somewhat of a fraud. He surreptitiously drinks to excess and changes into civilian clothes in order to meet with prostitutes in seedy bars. Although Tanz chews out Hartmann for every minor infraction, he seems to come to respect the younger man's professionalism. This sets in motion another complex plot development that also involves Hartmann's secret romance with General Gabler's free-spirited daughter Ulrike (Joanna Pettet).
Just trying to summarize the various plot strands of "The Night of the Generals" in this space is fairly exhausting. Oh, did I mention that another subplot involves Field Marshal Rommel (a cameo by Christopher Plummer) and the July, 1944 plot on the part of rebellious German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler? Nevertheless, although the various story lines become quite complex, they are all tied together eventually in clever and compelling ways. The film is part "Whodunnit", part political statement and part war movie. The movie moves back to the present for its intense conclusion as Inspector Morand is finally able to solve the crime and attempt to bring the culprit to justice. When the killer is revealed it's about as shocking of a development as the revelation that the butler did it in one of those old British film noir mysteries. Still, director Litvak (who shares the producer credit with Sam Spiegel because he owned the screen rights to the novel) keeps the action flowing briskly running time and elicits outstanding performances from his cast. O'Toole, who would later capitalize on playing larger-than-life characters, was at this point in his career still very immersed in portraying introspective, quiet men. He is quite mesmerizing as General Tanz and quite terrifying as well. Sharif is, at least on the surface, badly cast. I'm not aware of any Egyptians who became prominent German officers. Sharif has the map of the Middle East on his face and lingering remnants of his native accent. It's to his credit that he overcomes these obstacles and gives a very fine performance as the charismatic investigator who doggedly pursues his suspects with Javert-like conviction. All of the other performances are equally outstanding, with Courtenay especially impressive- and one has to wonder why the very talented Joanna Pettet never became a bigger star. The international flavor of the cast gives the film a Tower of Babel-like effect. Some of the actors attempt to affect a quasi-German accent while others speak with British accents, and then we have the French and Poland-based sequences with even more diversity of languages. Still, if you could accept Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood speaking "German" in their native tongues in "Where Eagles Dare", you won't find this aspect of "The Night of the Generals" to be particularly distracting. I should also mention the impressive contributions of composer Maurice Jarre, cinematographer Henri Decae and main titles designer Robert Brownjohn (remember when films even had opening titles?) In summary, the film-which not successful with critics or the public- is a thoroughly intriguing experience and affords us the joy of watching some of the best actors of the period sharing the screen.
"The Night of the Generals" has been released as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The transfer is gorgeous, giving full impact to the impressive cinematography and lush production design. There is also an isolated score track, the original trailer and an informative booklet by film historian Julie Kirgo, who examines Sam Spiegel's attempts to rebuild his career in subsequent years only to find that he was out of place in the new Hollywood.
Director Michael Winner was never the darling of critics except for his breakthrough films in the mid 1960s which evoked the sensibilities of England's emerging mod movements and a humorous, if cynical, view of society. He later morphed into more populist fare, directing the kinds of action films and moody horror flicks that seemed predestined to alienate critics but please mainstream audiences. Winner hit pay dirt with the release of his 1974 urban crime thriller "Death Wish", a film that perfectly mirrored the frustration of everyday Americans by the perception that crime was spiraling out of control across the nation and that traditional authorities were hamstrung in their efforts to stop the bad guys. The film was loathed by liberals (as well as the author of the source novel, Brian Garfield, who accused Winner of bastardizing and dumbing down his work.) However, as director William Friedkin recalled to this writer, he had never experiences a more visceral reaction to a film by its audience as he did when seeing "Death Wish". Audiences cheered every vigilante shooting committed by the movie's protagonist, Charles Bronson, who had just endured a family tragedy caused by muggers and rapists. Ironically, Winner's greatest boxoffice success was followed by the rapid demise of his clout in the film industry. A series of lazy and largely uninspired efforts followed and he ultimately faded from the industry by the early 1980s, relegated to directing vanity projects that few have ever seen. In his later years, Winner emerged as an omnipresent force on British television, where he appeared as a crusty conservative political commentator who was delighted to take pot shots at Labour, using the kind of insensitive vernacular that made old world pundits cringe but which delighted TV producers. He also became one of England's most temperamental and feared food critics and parlayed that into a successful TV career, as well. Somewhat lost in the shuffle was the fact that Winner occasionally made good movies in his heyday. When Cinema Retro co-publisher Dave Worrall and I visited him at his London mansion ten years ago, we found Winner to be initially in the kind of mood we fully anticipated: cranky, short-tempered and cynical. However he changed his tune when he saw that we were there for a serious evaluation of his films. He expressed his gratitude and said that few people ever bother to examine his cinematic achievements, preferring to accept his new personas as pundit and food critic.
"Scorpio", released in 1973, was one of two collaborative projects Winner made with star Burt Lancaster (the other being the under-rated 1971 Western "Lawman"). The movie was not particularly successful when first released but plays far better today, thanks in large part to a great cast that includes Alain Delon, Paul Scofield and Gayle Hunnicutt. Winner's intelligent direction also plays a major asset. The espionage thriller was a product of its time, though screenwriters David W. Rintels and Gerald Wilson seemed almost prophetic in paving the way for the kind of paranoid spy movie that has been de rigueur ever since. The movie was in production in the wake of the Watergate scandal, an event that seemingly was minor at the time but would lead to the exposure of what Carl Bernstein has termed the "criminal presidency" of Richard M. Nixon. By the time "Scorpio" was in theaters, Nixon was fighting for his political life. Ultimately, he would resign amid the debris of an administration that saw 40 of its members serve jail terms for a sweeping array of crimes that were so widespread in scope that they still boggle the minds of historians. (The resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew during the scandal due to unrelated corruption charges was treated almost as a minor event.) The end result of all this is that public trust in the institution of government was greatly eroded and gave rise to the increasingly paranoid fear that anything even involving the government- particularly the CIA- should be inherently distrusted. The film centers on a CIA agent named Cross (Burt Lancaster), who is said to be aged 50 in the script but who, in reality, was aged almost 60 at the time the film was made. Cross is a shadowy figure who ranks as one of the agency's top operatives. He finds himself inexplicably marked for death by his own boss, McLeod (John Colicos), who has passed the word that Cross is a double agent for the Soviets. McLeod, boxed in by legal sanctions against performing assassinations, outsources the mission to kill Cross to Jean Laurier, a freelance killer who goes by the code name Scorpio. Making matters murkier is the fact that Cross and Scorpio are friends and colleagues, with the older man acting as a kind of mentor for the up-and-coming French operative. Initially, Scorpio intentionally bypasses opportunities to kill Cross because he believes that his friend is innocent of the charge of treason. However, he eventually relents under pressure by McLeod to carry out the assignment. This leads to a cat-and-mouse pursuit that extends from Washington, D.C. to Vienna, where Cross uses his ingenuity and old friends and contacts to outwit and keep ahead of Scorpio and his team of accomplices from the agency. Cross finds an unlikely haven in the apartment of Zharkov (Paul Scofield), a top Soviet agent who is as cynical about his own government as Cross is about his. The two men are the best of enemies. They have thwarted each other in the past, but both men have a healthy respect for each other. They realize that they are each regarded as expendable dinosaurs by a younger generation of bureaucrats who are more interested in advancing their careers than they are in political ideologies. Zharkov houses Cross in his Vienna home while Cross makes plans to try to smuggle his wife Sarah (Joanne Linville) out of Washington D.C. so that she can join him on the run. Trouble is, she is under constant surveillance by the CIA, which is hoping to track down Cross through any communications he attempts to make with her. Things heat up when Scorpio tracks Cross to Vienna, thus setting in motion several high voltage situations in which the old friends attempt to kill off each other.
"Scorpio" is one of those espionage films that becomes so complex that it is almost impossible to follow. I could never figure out whether Cross was being framed or whether he might actually be a traitor, though I presume one is to assume the former scenario. Unlike the recent acclaimed feature film version of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy", which was not only incomprehensible but also a complete bore, "Scorpio" allows the viewer the luxury of ignoring the nuances of the plot and simply sitting back and enjoying the outstanding performances and action sequences. The re-teaming of Lancaster and Scofield, who co-starred in John Frankenheimer's 1965 classic "The Train", was an inspired idea. The two do outstanding work, particularly in a quiet sequence in which the old war horse agents get drunk and debate Zharkov's reluctance to disown his belief in communism. Delon makes for a charismatic, if icy, killer and his scenes with Lancaster have a good degree of tension. Michael Winner takes ample advantage of the exotic settings and provides at least one doozy of a memorable action sequence set in an enormous Vienna construction site where the seemingly ageless Lancaster outdoes himself in terms of stunt work as he attempts to elude his would-be assassins. The film also has a "sting-in-the-tale" ending that probably would surprise viewers who are most astute than I in terms of following the key plot points and complex relationships between the characters. I admit that I was left baffled. It should be pointed out that the movie also features a fine score by the late, great Jerry Fielding.
Lancaster, Winner and Delon on the set.
;Twilight Time has released the film as a special edition Blu-ray, limited to only 3,000 copies. The transfer is beautiful; riight up to this company's high standards. Bonus extras include an isolated score track, the original trailer and a highly engaging commentary track by film historians Nick Redman, Lem Dobbs and Julie Kirgo, who also writes the accompanying, highly informative liner notes. On the track, Redman astutely points out that "Scorpio" represented a bygone era in cinema during which studios made plenty of mid-range films that they hoped would generate modest profits. This is in contrast to today's insane practice of gambling an entire's studio's financial health on one or two over-blown productions in the hope they will be blockbusters. Dobbs, for his part, amusingly makes a mea culpa, admitting that he always considered Michael Winner to be a hack director. However, compared to many of today's filmmakers, he practically looks like a master of his craft. Redman also provides some very interesting facts about the sad, final days of Michael Winner, whose "golden years" were marred by a myriad of potentially deadly health problems caused by eating an infected oyster!
"Scorpio" is a film that makes me appreciate all the more how much I miss stars like Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield. The movie may not be a classic but it presents them with meaty roles and they don't disappoint in terms of delivering terrific performances.
Feature: 60 Years of the Gill Man is, essentially, a
seventy-four minute valentine to Universal-International’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Beginning with their lavish staging of The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Universal was Hollywood’s
uncontested House of Horrors, the motion-picture industry’s preeminent fright
factory throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Their films brought to the screen the
most enduring visages of this golden age of horror. The studio made familiar faces – and
occasional bankable stars - of their contract players and talent for hire: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Claude Rains, George
Zucco, Basil Rathbone, Lionel Atwill, John Carradine, Evelyn Ankers, Maria
Ouspenskaya, and Lon Chaney Jr.
But the trademark old castles and foggy moor scenarios
on which the old Universal films were staged were largely gone by the early
1950s. In the years prior to England’s
Hammer Studios breathing colorful - and sexy - new life into the gothic-horror
genre, the creaking-door chillers of times past had been supplanted by new
atomic-age monsters and belligerent visitors from the farthest reaches of
outer-space. Universal, re-christened as
Universal-International following a company merger in 1946, proved adaptable to
the change. The studio would produce
nearly as many classics during the silver-age of 1950’s science-fiction as it
had with its gothic-horrors.
The most successful and iconic of all the Universal
monster-movies of the 1950s was, without rival, Jack Arnold’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon
(1954). Arnold and producer William
Alland had worked previously – and successfully - on the sci-fi classic It Came from Outer Space (1953), so the
studio wasn’t being incautious when they invested $600,000 of those earnings on
a second collaboration. Photographed in
glorious black-and-white, principal shooting was scheduled for the Universal
back-lot and on the freshwater bayous of Wakulla Springs outside Tallahassee, Florida.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon
was one the biggest box-office successes of 1954 bringing in an estimated three
million dollars on its first year of release.
The popularity of the film spawned two successful sequels,
Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). The original film was such a phenomenon that
its pop-culture status was unusually acknowledged - and cross-promoted - by
rival studio 2oth Century-Fox. In a
famous sequence from Billy Wilder’s The
Seven Year Itch (1955), Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell are seen walking out
of a theater screening of The Creature
from the Black Lagoon. As the two
stroll along curbside, Monroe’s dress billows upward from a rush of air through
the sidewalk’s subway grate.
In a supplement from Creature Feature: 60 Years of the Gill Man, producer-writer Sam
Borowski offers that his affectionate documentary on the history and legacy of
the Gill-man was a labor-of-love. Borowski
recalls first meeting documentarian Matt Crick in lower Manhattan on what was otherwise
a solemn occasion. Both men were in
attendance at a memorial processional following the attack on the World Trade
Center, September 11, 2001. Having long
pondered a tribute to this much-loved monster-series, the producer admits it
was only after Crick signed on that the laborious process of pulling together the
bits of fragmented memories, ephemera and vintage celluloid would commence.
They had a rough-cut of the film assembled as early as
2004, and it was rumored that their documentary would be featured as a
supplement on Universal’s The Creature
from the Black Lagoon “Legacy Collection” release of 2004. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen; even
though the back cover of that DVD set oddly features an attribution credited to
the film (then sub-titled “50 years of the Gill-Man”). In 2005, the filmmakers began to showcase
this early cut of the film at indie-cinemas and various film-conventions but,
as far as I’m aware, this 2015 issue on Blu is its first appearance on any home
The biggest difficulty with the making of such a
documentary was that it was a late-starter. By 2001 there were few very people who had worked on the original film available
to chat with. Producer William Alland,
director Jack Arnold, and co-screenwriter Harry Essex had all passed way in the
1990s. With the exception of the
talented (and still lovely) Julie (aka Julia) Adams, nearly the entire cast had
passed on: gone from consideration were actors
Richard Carlson, Whit Bissel, Richard Denning, and Antonio Moreno. Borowski and Crick did manage an
illuminating interview with co-screenwriter Arthur Ross prior to his passing in
2008. Ross offered he was brought in
late on the first project, originally titled, Black Lagoon, to oversee the writing of a second draft. In one vignette Ross takes credit for
bringing the palpable sense of humanity to the otherwise startling-in-appearance
The two featured stars of this documentary – and, aside
from Ross, the only ones to share first-person, if entirely anecdotal commentaries
- are Julie Adams and Ben Chapman. Adams
is most certainly the more well-known of the two. Signed by Universal in 1949, the actress
worked near-continuously in the television and motion-picture industry until
the late 1980s when offers became less forthcoming. Adams was doubled in many of her water
sequences by Ginger Stanley, a strong swimmer and cast member of Florida’s
Weeki Wachee Springs Water Show. Stanley
is also on hand here to generously share her experiences with the filmmakers.
Though his name does not even appear in the film’s
credits, Ben Chapman was the tall actor who donned the creature-suit for all
scenes on shot on land. (Ricou Browning,
who appears later in the tribute but doesn’t offer much in the way of
commentary, doubled as the creature in all of the film’s marvelous underwater
sequences). Chapman’s enthusiasm for
having played in such an iconic film is infectious. A frequent guest on autograph-show circuits
and monster movie conventions, Chapman was the friendlier and more out-going of
the two surviving Gill-men, always available to chat or take a smiling photograph
with fans young and old. Chapman, a
Universal contract actor, recalls he was twenty-five years old when he got the
part. His casting was the result of
brawny western star Glenn Strange having turned down the role. Strange, beloved amongst horror film fans for
playing the shuffling, stiff-armed monster in House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, passed on the role as he
wasn’t a particularly strong swimmer.
Many Cinema Retro readers write to tell us that they like the fact that we shine a new light on older, under-appreciated movies and re-evaluate them after the passage of time. In this instance, I can't re-evaluate "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" because I had never seen it prior to its release on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory. To say that the film was subject to a string of bad luck is an understatement. It might be more appropriate to consider if it was literally cursed. First some background: the Lone Ranger had been a pop culture hero for many years in comics, on the radio and on screen. The 1950s TV series starring Clayton Moore made the character iconic and forever associated with "The William Tell Overture" which was played each time he rode into action. The 1978 revival of "Superman" as a big screen adventure was a boxoffice smash and elevated its unknown lead- Christopher Reeve- to genuine stardom. It wasn't the first time that a relatively untested leading man carried a major movie to boxoffice success. Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif did so with "Lawrence of Arabia" and George Lazenby managed the feat with "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". Producer Jack Wrather was inspired by this history and when he acquired the feature film rights to The Lone Ranger character (for an eye-popping $3 million), he decided to cast unknowns as the Lone Ranger and his loyal sidekick Tonto. After an exhaustive search, he thought he struck gold by casting Klinton Spilsbury and Michael Horse. Both were hunky young men who were adept at riding horses and managing the physical challenges of starring in a big budget action film. The film was to be directed by William A. Fraker, the legendary cinematographer who had earned praise for his direction of "Monte Walsh" a decade earlier. For his cinematographer on "The Legend of the Lone Ranger", Fraker hired another legend, Laszlo Kovacs. Other top talent quickly signed on including esteemed screenwriter William Roberts, who had written the screenplay for "The Magnificent Seven". Composer John Barry was signed to create the score and a main title theme. Jason Robards joined the cast as President Ulysses S. Grant and Christopher Lloyd took a rare dramatic part as the villain. Things were looking promising. However, the bubble was about to burst.
While the film was in production, it reaped a mountain of bad publicity when the producers forced the beloved Clayton Moore from making any further public appearances at autograph shows and charity events where he had been making the circuit dressed in his original Lone Ranger costume. Moore fought the order in court and ultimately prevailed but the damage had been done. An outraged public had an "in" for the new Lone Ranger long before production had ever wrapped. During filming, a stuntman almost died and leading man Klinton Spilsbury insisted on shooting the film in sequence to help with his understanding of his character and motivations. Shooting in sequence can be a costly proposition but the producers complied. However, in viewing the rushes, they decided that Spilsbury was something short of dynamic in the way he delivered his lines. They hired actor James Keach to dub him through the entire film, a fact they tried to keep secret but which leaked out immediately even in the pre-internet era. (Ironically, Keach delivers his dubbed lines in a bland, monotone manner that makes one wonder just how bad Spilsbury could have been.) By the time filming wrapped, the film had been tarnished but Universal, the studio releasing the movie, was still optimistic. However, the bad luck continued even in post-production. The film's technical aspects proved to be challenging and the movie's December 1980 release was bumped to Memorial Day in May of 1981. The good news is that President Ronald Reagan had agreed to attend a special screening of the movie prior to general release. Shortly before this was to occur, he was wounded in an assassination attempt and was unable to attend (the "The Gipper" was considerate enough to send a video greeting to attendees.) When the film opened to the public, response was poor from both the public and critics, who denounced the movie as the second major Western bomb in a row, following the disastrous opening of "Heaven's Gate" the previous fall. The movie quickly became the butt of jokes. Johnny Carson quipped that on opening day, Tonto put his ear to the ground and said "Kemosabe, me hear very few people heading toward the theaters!". Carson rarely weighed in on criticizing films and, as he was one of America's top barometers of pop culture, the sarcasm only reinforced the notion that the film was a bomb. Themovie had the dubious distinction of sweeping The Razzies, the awards for the worst achievements in movie making. Klinton Spilsbury couldn't overcome the stigma of having been dubbed. His name was mud in the industry and to this date, he has not acted professionally again. (Though, bizarrely, he did become an acting teacher in Vancouver for a time.) Michael Horse fared better, however, and carved out a satisfying career as a character actor that extends to this day.
In watching the movie today, its problems remain apparent, though it is entertaining in a goofy sort of way. Some screen heroes such as Batman can look cool in a mask but The Lone Ranger simply looks likes a throwback to a bygone era of entertainment when kids would be less demanding about the corn quotient served up by their idols. The film would probably have benefited from some self-awareness that the entire premise was outdated but the movie-makers made the mistake of playing the entire affair completely straight. In fact, the film is almost devoid of any humor at all. Another problem is that the story takes so long to tell how the Lone Ranger and Tonto ended up meeting and becoming blood brothers that it takes a full hour before audiences even get to see the Lone Ranger. The story leading up to this is compelling, with young John Reid witnessing his parents slaughtered by a marauding band of cutthroats. His life is saved by a Native American boy his own age named Tonto, who brings Reid back to his tribe. The Indians adopt Reid and teach him the basic skills of survival. Before long, he is feels very much a part of the tribe- until an uncle inexplicably arrives from Chicago (!) and takes him back to the big city against his wishes. The action then jumps to years later. Reid is aboard a stagecoach heading West when it is attacked by a group of robbers. In an exciting, well-filmed stagecoach chase sequence, Reid displays his heroics, saves his fellow passengers and falls head over heels for lovely Amy Striker (Juanin Clay), who is the niece of the nearest town's newspaper. When Reid and Amy arrive, they are greeted by the uncle, who is on a one-man crusade against a local evil land baron named Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd, surprisingly good in a non-comedic role.) Cavendish has amassed a paramilitary force, bribed the local sheriff and kept the town's population in fear as he acts as a de facto dictator. For his efforts, the uncle is murdered. Reid joins the Texas Rangers along with his brother and a posse sets off to track down Cavendish. Along the way they are lured into a canyon and in another rousing action sequence, they are all killed except for Reid, who is badly wounded. Coincidentally, Tonto happens upon the scene and recognizes an amulet that Reid is wearing which Tonto gave to him when they became blood brothers. He nurses his old friend back to health and Reid becomes determined to bring his brother's killers to justice as-- wait for it- The Lone Ranger! It's never explained how he gets the fancy duds and mask but we do see the origins of how he adopts Silver as his wonder horse. Before long, the Lone Ranger is bellowing "Hi Yo, Silver!" and riding with Tonto to infiltrate Cavendish's compound. Turns out Cavendish has a lot in common with today's political fringe nuts: he wants to secede from the union and establish a country called New Texas. His scheme is ambitious: he intends to hijack a train carrying President Ulysses S. Grant (Jason Robards) and hold him hostage until his demands are met. The execution of the plan is a highlight of the film, as is Robards' amusing performance as Grant. The scenes in which he matches wits with Cavendish over a sumptuous dinner brings to mind similar obligatory scenes from the Bond movies. The action-packed finale features the U.S. Cavalry joining the Lone Ranger and Tonto to free Grant, who gets into the action himself. By another coincidence, Grant's train had been carrying Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickcok and General George Armstrong Custer, so you can imagine it's gonna be a bad luck day for Cavendish.
There is much to criticize about "The Legend of the Lone Ranger". The producers and director seemed oblivious to the fact that a guy in a white hat and black mask shouting "Hi Yo, Silver!" would come across as incredibly corny to modern audiences if it wasn't played with at least a dab of self-awareness and humor. Alas, it's played straight- as is the use of the "William Tell Overture". It's as though the filmmakers had entered a time warp and thought they were out to please audiences from the 1940s. Another major weak link is the musical score by the esteemed John Barry. The instrumentals are fine but Barry has concocted a title theme called "The Man Behind the Mask" that is crooned by Merle Haggard. To say it's unintentionally hilarious would be an understatement. Not helping matters is some awful narration that describes the action in a corn pone drawl that sounds like it would be more at home in "Blazing Saddles". Yet, for all it's flaws, I enjoyed the film because of its sincere attempt to bring to life an iconic American hero, no matter how outdated the concept might have seemed. There are also some very impressive action scenes and some incredible stunt work. Alas, it wasn't enough to save the movie from its disastrous fate. Hollywood is so devoid of new ideas that the concept was, of course, recently revived as the equally disastrous Johnny Depp version of the Lone Ranger. Can't we let the guy rest in peace?
The Shout! Factory Blu-ray boasts a decent transfer but there is a good deal of grain in some of the sequences. This could be the way the film looked on original release, as it was criticized in some quarters for its sometimes muddy cinematography, which was particularly surprising since director Fraker was one of the best cinematographers in the business. The Blu-ray cries out for a commentary by film historians who could discuss the movie's interesting back story, but alas, only a trailer is included.
“The Gunfight at Dodge City” (1959), now out on a Kino
Lorber Blu-ray, tells the story of Bat Masterson during his time as sheriff in
the famed Kansas cattle town. It recounts how he was forced to leave Hays City
after a shooting incident with a Union Army sergeant and join up with his
brother Ed (Harry Lauter), the deputy marshal in Dodge. Ed doesn’t like being
deputy marshal much because the real authority in town belongs to Sheriff Jim
Regan (Don Haggerty), who runs the town the way he likes it, enjoying the
profits therefrom. He decides to run against him in the next election.
Ed has a fiancé, Pauline Howard (Julie Adams), the
starchy daughter of the town preacher. Bat takes an interest in his brother’s
fiancé, which she seems to encourage, mainly because nobody thinks she and Ed
will ever really get married. Bat also forms a business relationship with
another woman, Lily (Nancy Gates), the owner of the Lady Gay Saloon. He buys an
interest in the saloon, and becomes her partner, not noticing that she may have
more than business on her mind.
Another complication arises in the form of Dave Rudabaugh
(Richard Anderson) a gunfighter with a grudge against Bat. When Ed is killed,
Bat mistakenly believes it was Regan or his henchman (Tim Carey) who killed
him. He can’t prove it so instead of gunning him down he decides to take Ed’s place
and run against Regan in the election.
The rest of the story goes about resolving the
Masterson/Regan conflict and settling the romantic triangle situation. Bat also
learns who really killed his brother, although when told the killer’s identity
it hardly seems to matter to him anymore. And frankly long before you get to
the finish of this dull western, you’ll hardly care, either.
The story, only loosely based on some of the facts of
Masterson’s life, is all over the place, with no central focus to hold your
interest. McCrea, in his mid-fifties when he made this picture, seems to be phoning
it in. Joseph Newman’s direction is by-the-numbers, with little interest
generated in several scenes that should have crackled with tension. The script
by Martin Goldsmith and Daniel Ullman contains more fiction than fact and seems
more interested in the romantic aspect of the story more than anything else.
Julie Adams comes off the worst in “The Gunfight at Dodge City.” Having to play
an uptight preacher’s daughter, she comes off snobbish and brittle, a far cry
from the many radiant female characters she played during her long career.
Bat Masterson was one of the most interesting legends
of the Old West. Besides being a buffalo hunter, a gambler, a gunfighter and a
lawman, he was later in life a sports columnist for New York newspapers, a regular
Times Square celebrity, and a friend of Teddy Roosevelt. Too bad the filmmakers
didn’t try to add some of the real Masterson’s pizzazz to the dull character in
Kino Lorber did a first rate job transferring the
cinemascope print to Blu-ray. The presentation is flawless, with vibrant color
and good black level. The mono sound is crisp and clear. The only extras on
this release are preview trailers for other KL Studio Classic releases,
including Anthony Mann’s “Man of the West.” If you are a Joel McCrea fan you’ll
probably want to add this one to your collection, but if you’re looking for a
factual biopic of Bat Masterson or even just a good, entertaining western, look
Somehow I missed Norman Jewison’s Other People’s Money when it was released in 1991, but now courtesy
of the Warner Archive Collection, I was able to catch up with this minor but enjoyable film.
Based on Jerry Steiner’s play of the same name, with a
screenplay by Alvin Sargent, Other People’s Money is mostly notable as Gregory Peck’s last major
screen performance. Peck turns in one of his signature honorable roles as
Andrew Jorgensen, a successful but principled businessman who is ultimately more
invested in his employees and
maintaining integrity than in enlarging his company’s bottom line. That’s why
he and his wife Bea (Piper Laurie), along with manager Bill Coles (Dean Jones),
are determined to keep New England Wire and Cable out of the ruthless hands of
corporate raider Larry the Liquidator (Danny DeVito). Way out of their depth,
they call in a secret weapon, savvy New York lawyer Kate Sullivan (the
wonderful Penelope Ann Miller) to outwit and out-beguile Larry. As Bea’s
daughter, Kate has added incentive to stay a step ahead of her opponent and
keep the company intact.
Devito excels at creating despicable but lovable
characters and gets a rare lead role in this film. He plays Larry like he
stepped out of Guys and Dolls, only
this eccentric millionaire gambles with stock and shares rather than dice. The
love of Larry’s life is his computer system CARMEN which provides him with
potential corporate conquests, but the target of his lust is Kate. Despite
their contrasting physiques, DeVito and Miller exhibit an unexpected chemistry
and their sexually charged repartee really crackles. Unfortunately these more modern sequences
blend awkwardly with those set at the factory, making the other half of this
film feel overly dramatic and sentimental. Even so, it’s a treat to see Peck
deliver an impassioned speech to the company’s shareholders and to enjoy Piper
Laurie in a sympathetic role. I just wish their material had same thread of
humor and fun as that afforded to DeVito and Miller.
Norman Jewison’s lengthy filmography includes multiple
classics and a handful of stage to screen adaptations Fiddler on the Roof(1971), Jesus
Christ Superstar (1973) and Agnes of
God (1982). He’s mastered every genre but the disparate tones in this film
never quite gel in a completely satisfying way. Jewison’s expert skill is still
evident, however, in the polished style and the accomplished performances, thus
making Other People’s
Money a slight but worthwhile film. The only bonus material on this
Warner Archive disc is the theatrical
trailer, but the feature transfer looks slick and for this out of print film.
By 1987, Burt Reynolds was largely regarded as being past his sell date as a leading man in theatrical films. Some of his decline in popularity was self-imposed. Reynolds had continued to knock out cornpone comedies long after they had run out of steam. His other problem was due to the fact that he had been seriously injured on the set of "City Heat" due to a mis-timed stunt that left him in serious shape and resulted in a long hospital stay. During this time, terrible rumors spread widely that implied he had contracted AIDS. By the time Reynolds recovered, the damage to his career had been done. Although he would continue to star in films for major studios, their boxoffice take was generally mediocre at best. Reynolds would eventually gravitate to television where he starred in a hit sitcom, "Evening Shade". One of his attempted comeback vehicles was the 1987 crime thriller "Malone" in which Reynolds eschewed his image as a towel-snapping wiseguy and returned to his roots to play a mysterious man of action. The film opens with the titular character, played by Reynolds, refusing to carry out an assassination for the CIA. Malone has been one of their most reliable covert killers but he's ashamed of his profession and decides to give it up for a quiet, normal life. He knows that one doesn't just walk out on the CIA so he uproots his life and packs all his belongings in his weather-beaten car and heads off to remote areas of the Northwest. While enjoying his lifestyle as a drifter, his car breaks down and he manages to get it to a one-horse town where the local garage owner, a partially disabled widower, Paul Barlow (Scott Wilson) informs him he has to order a special part for the vehicle. The two men make friendly chatter and Barlow offers to allow Malone to stay at his house until the car can be repaired. Also on the premises is Barlow's teenage daughter Jo (Cynthia Gibb), who immediately takes a fancy to the mysterious stranger who has entered her otherwise mundane existence. During his stay, the tight-lipped Malone observes that Barlow and some other town residents are being bullied and intimidated by employees of a local land baron named Delaney (Cliff Robertson), who- for reasons unknown- is trying to force certain locals to sell him their land. Failure to do so results in inevitable harassment. When Malone comes to Barlow's aid and humiliates some of Delaney's goons, Delaney meets with him and tries to bribe him to work for him. Seems that anyone of influence in the town is on Delaney's payroll, including the local sheriff (Kenneth McMillan). Malone refuses the offer and Delaney turns to bringing in professional assassins to murder him. Adding to Malone's woes is the fact that a former CIA colleague, Jamie (Lauren Hutton) has tracked him down and has orders to kill him, as well. Jamie, however, warns Malone of her mission and the two decide that "Make love, not war" should be their mantra. As Delaney increases the pressure, Malone decides to go mano a mano with him. He sneaks into Delaney's heavily-guarded compound and discovers a massive arsenal being stockpiled there. Turns out that Delaney is the leader of an extremist right wing fringe group with ties to sympathetic elected officials in Washington, D.C. He intends to imminently launch a violent uprising in the hopes that it spreads nationally and takes down the government.
There isn't a single original thought in "Malone". The film is a modern day remake of Clint Eastwood's "Pale Rider", which had been released two years before. Eastwood's film, in turn, was a virtual remake of George Stevens' "Shane". The stories all share some common themes: a family is being harassed by a local rich guy who has nefarious purposes. A mysterious stranger comes to their aid and, in the process, is idolized by a young member of the family. In the climax of all three stories, the stranger finds himself having to put his life on the line to rid the locals of the menacing figure who is making their lives miserable. Having said all that, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed "Malone". Under the competent direction of Harley Cokeless, the story moves at a brisk pace and there is plenty of time to explore the backgrounds of the key characters. Reynolds still had enough macho mojo to pull off roles like this and it's great seeing him play a serious role once again. As a man of few words, he excels not only in the dramatic sequences but also in the film's explosive conclusion, which borrows much from another (then) contemporary hit, "Witness" as we watch Malone on Delaney's farm systematically eliminate the bad guys. Reynolds gets some fine support from Cliff Robertson (in the kind of superficially charming role usually played by Robert Vaughn), Kenneth McMillan and Scott Wilson. Lauren Hutton's brief appearance is a highlight of the film, as she and Malone intersperse romantic interludes with suspicions about each other's motives. (Malone willingly beds her but is afraid to digest any drinks she prepares out of fear she will poison him.) The biggest revelation is the performance of Cynthia Gibb, who displays considerable charm as the young girl who is starstruck by Malone. (The script thankfully keeps the relationship chaste.) "Malone", filmed in and around Vancouver (the usual tax-friendly doppleganger for American locations), is a good old-fashioned action flick. In today's era of over-produced, over-budgeted CGI-laden monstrosities, it's simplicity, predictability and unpretentious story line are assets. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains the trailer as well as trailers for other Burt Reynolds releases available through the company.
In the perception of most people Paul Newman was a legendary actor who had a hobby of racing cars. However, Newman considered himself primarily a professional race car driver with an interest in making movies. The new documentary "Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman", directed by race car enthusiasts Adam Corolla and Nate Adams, explores Newman's passion for the sport in great detail through the utilization of interesting archival footage and new interviews with some of Newman's friends and colleagues. The result is a highly impressive film that takes a quirky look at a quirky man. "Quirky" is the word because Newman- along with Brando, perhaps- was the most reluctant of Hollywood superstars. He disdained the party and publicity circuit and preferred to live quietly with his wife Joanne Woodward and his family in Connecticut, a place he felt sufficiently removed from the movie industry. Newman would make the occasional TV appearance to publicize a new movie, but he was far more passionate about participating in causes that he nothing to do with show business. He was an unabashed liberal in an era where liberals proudly wore that label. His backing of peace candidate Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 presidential race so infuriated Richard Nixon that he put Newman on his infamous "enemies list". When this was divulged years later, Newman called it one of the great honors of his life. Newman also gave generously to charitable causes and would come out of hibernation for fund-raising on behalf of the downtrodden. In all his years in the spotlight, he was never linked to scandal and, despite being one of the world's most famous sex symbols, was never linked to another woman. There was room in Newman's life for yet another passion, however, and it turned out to be race car driving. As Robert Wagner, who co-starred in the 1969 racing film "Winning" with Newman, explains in the documentary, the actor had no real interest in the sport until the film went into production. A new era of filmmaking had arrived and audiences would no longer tolerate the notorious rear screen projection techniques employed in the past. For "Winning", the actors were expected to drive their own race cars with cameras mounted on them to capture the feel of realism. Wagner admits he was intimidated by the process. He and Newman had to undergo extensive training in one of the world's most prestigious racing schools. When filming was done, Wagner said goodbye to the dangerous sport but Newman was hooked.
The film features interviews with many of Newman's racing car colleagues including the legendary Mario Andretti and his son Michael, along with Willy T. Ribbs, who emotionally credits Newman with opening the doors that made it possible for him to be champion driver. It's pointed out that when Newman started racing, he was greeted with cynicism by the pros, who thought it was just a vanity past time for a major movie star. But Newman quickly won their respect by starting at the bottom and painstakingly learning the craft. He had his share of accidents and missteps but never blamed anyone but himself. Before long, Newman was regarded as an esteemed colleague by the inner circle of drivers. Over the years, he honed his skills and won many trophies on his own merits. What impressed his fellow racers most was Newman's modesty. Even after winning a triumphant victory, he would credit his team for their professionalism and make it apparent he considered the victory to be a group achievement. He also fulfilled a dream of racing at Le Mans, where the only reason he didn't win was due to a tire problem that cost him time in the pit stop and forced him to come in second. The film shows ample archival footage of Newman at Le Mans. He loved the race, but loathed the fanfare. In America, Newman's audience for races largely consisted of serious fans of the sport, not stargazers. At Le Mans, he was subjected to a tidal wave of paparazzi who never gave him a moment of peace. Newman wanted to be respected for his racing skills, not for his film work. Consequently, he never returned to Le Mans.
Newman with his friend and co-star Robert Vaughn in the 1974 blockbuster The Towering Inferno. Despite his legendary status as a film star, Newman preferred to be known primarily as a race car driver.
"Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman" is a consistently interesting examination of a man who was known by countless millions of movie goers, but who largely succeeded in keeping his personal life out of the news. The film is understandably light on his movie career, though some short clips of key career achievements are shown. There are also interviews with Robert Redford, who talks about the personal side of Newman and their long friendship. Redford says he still remains grateful for Newman insisting that he play the Sundance Kid despite the fact that they barely knew each other. The role catapulted Redford to superstardom. He also discusses the elaborate practical jokes they would pull on each other, often at great expense. Neither man would give the other the satisfaction of acknowledging he was the victim of a prank. Newman's brother Arthur speaks emotionally about his close relationship with his brother and states the obvious, that movie studios loathed Paul's obsession with racing- and for good reason. Had he been seriously injured, it could have jeopardized major film projects. Conspicuously missing from the production is Newman's widow Joanne Woodward, though she is seen in archival footage from many years ago expressing her trepidation about his racing and her concerns that he might give up acting to pursue racing as a vocation. Nevertheless, she was generally on hand to cheer him on. The only other celebrity interview featured is that of Jay Leno, himself a well-known classic car buff. He describes having Newman on The Tonight Show when the actor was pushing 80. In a highly amusing clip of the segment, Leno induces Newman into a go-cart race around the cavernous hallways of NBC Studios- a race that Newman wins handily. Leno describes his respect for the man and his low-key, charming nature.
The documentary is consistently informative and entertaining. The film covers Newman introducing Tom Cruise to racing after they had starred in The Color of Money in 1987. Cruise enjoyed his brief flirtation with the sport but lacked Newman's discipline and patience. It also delves into Newman's well-known charitable work. Newman's hobby of making home made salad dressing resulted in it being marketed professionally. He only reluctantly agreed to have funky depictions of his face on the packaging in order to spur sales, but insisted that all the profits go to establish the Hole-in-the-Wall camps for seriously ill children. To date, the Newman's Own food line has donated close to half a billion dollars to this cause.
What emerges from "Winning" is the fact that Newman was an enigma: a shy superstar and humanitarian. The kind of class act that rarely comes along today.
Bonus extras include extended, uncut versions of many of the key interviews, a trailer and a short segment in which co-director Adam Corolla painstakingly restores one of Newman's favorite race car to make it operational again.
The documentary is a unique look at a Hollywood legend - and you don't have to be a racing buff to enjoy the amazing footage of Newman behind the wheel.
Two years after Kino Lorber Studio Classics issued their
Blu-Ray of the continental version of Mario Bava’s horror anthology BLACK
SABBATH, the boutique label has now chosen to release the film’s U.S. cousin in
the same format. Originally released in
Italy in August 1963 as “I tre volti della paura" (“The Three Faces of
Fear”), BLACK SABBATH was issued in the U.S. the following spring under the
American-International banner. The film
is often invoked as Bava’s personal favorite among his many directorial
efforts. The Eastmancolor-shot film is
certainly one of his best; though, truth
be told, I personally find the monochrome, atmospheric and gripping witches
tale, BLACK SUNDAY (1960), to be his true high-water mark.
There is, of course, an interesting back-story to this
U.S. issue. American International infamously
tinkered with the original continental cut of the film. These changes have long
been a subject of angst and scorn amongst horror film fans and scholars; their
main complaint is that A.I.P.’s interference wrecked what was previously a perfectly-wrought
and taut trilogy. Their re-sequencing of
episodes and their trimming of a few frames of shocking but gratuitous gore, both
unwelcome and disparaged, would ultimately be the least of concerns.
The greatest outrage was reserved for the studio’s controversial
re-editing of one particular episode, “The Telephone.” In a clumsy effort to protect American
audiences from any contemplation of perceived sordid behavior exhibited
on-screen in the European version, this segment was re-edited in such manner as
to totally remove any suggestion of vengeful lesbian-culpability as a motive in
the ensuing terror. It was, without
doubt, a calculated business - rather than creative - decision to placate the
moralists at home, but it also inarguably subverted the intent and arc of the original
Having said this, I must admit that I’ve always been fond
of this often pilloried A.I.P. cut. Not
only was it the version to which I was first introduced - through repetitive telecasts
on Saturday night’s Chiller Theater on
New York’s WPIX - but this English-language version, far more importantly,
features the genuine ominous and sepulchral tones of the great Boris Karloff.
There’s no reason to note here the many small and large
differences between Bava’s original Italian and the subsequent A.I.P. version of
the film. The changes are all exhaustively
and expertly attenuated on the colorful commentary track courtesy of Tim Lucas,
editor of the popular cult-film magazine Video
Watchdog. Lucas is undeniably well
suited for the task: he’s the
acknowledged foremost Bava scholar and author of the thousand plus page
labor-of-love tome “Mario Bava: All The
Colors of the Dark.”
It also must be said that the studio’s meddling paid
off: BLACK SABBATH did very well for
A.I.P. It opened in neighborhood
theaters and drive-ins across the U.S. in late May of 1964, the top-bill of a
pairing with another 1963 Bava Italian import, EVIL EYE (aka THE GIRL WHO KNEW
TOO MUCH). It was still doing the
circuit in October 1964, now paired with Herschell Gordon Lewis’s splatter-fest
BLOOD FEAST (1963). One year following
its U.S. release, the film was still being programmed as dependable late night
drive-in fare, but now reduced to bottom-bill status to director William
Conrad’s exploitation-shocker TWO ON A GUILLOTINE (1965).
Cineastes can – and most certainly have – argued the
merits and failings of A.I.P.’s re-sequencing of the trilogy, but the A.I.P.
cut inarguably starts things off with a chill. The haunting and nightmarish “A Drop of Water,” possibly the most
celebrated segment of the trilogy, had climactically closed the earlier continental
version of the film. Reportedly based on
a tale by Anton Chekov, this entry concerns the eerie retribution suffered by
nursemaid Helen Chester (Jacqueline Soussard) following her theft of an amethyst
ring from the corpse of an elderly female patient. The newly departed victim would, only
temporarily, lose possession of the precious stone to her scheming health-care
The twist is that the dead woman was a spiritualist, a
medium with a life-long interest in the black arts. Having some inkling of her client’s interest
in the supernatural, it almost goes without saying the nursemaid should have…
well, known better. The grotesque
corpse of the withered and deceased sorceress – whose dead eyes refuse to stay
closed, no matter how much they’re prompted - should have been warning enough. The décor of the old woman’s home is, as one
might expect, as ominous and brooding as her lifeless body that rests in the
master bedroom. It’s a sullen and dank residence
with heavy draperies, dreary interior hallways, and an assortment of gloomy
toy-dolls strewn haphazardly about the house without explanation. The old woman appears to have retained a
housekeeper to look after her home, but the general disarray that surrounds her
death-bed clearly demonstrates she was not getting the service she’s paid for.
There is a scarcity of dialogue in all three episodes
of BLACK SABBATH; there’s just enough verbiage to propel each storyline
forward. The moments best remembered throughout
are almost entirely visual. Bava was a
stylist of the highest-order (he was a painter prior to working as a
cinematographer), and this film is an amalgam of assortment of haunting images. The corpse-figure of the late medium is so
plainly a mannequin that a more sophisticated modern audience might laugh at the
director’s intended deception. The
problem is the twisted face of the mannequin-corpse is truly the stuff of which
nightmares are made; the molded face with its crazed eyes provides an
undeniably creepy and iconic horror-film visage, one not soon forgotten.
As previously mentioned, the most radical and
controversial re-edits are found in the second segment of BLACK SABBATH, “The
Telephone.” The A.I.P. re-edit of this
episode, more giallo than horror, has
been almost completely shorn of an important red-herring sub-plot. Through their removal of any suggestion of
sexual deviancy, as it is, this capitulation to perceived American moral-sensibilities
of the era inarguably alters and dilutes the sense of mystery that Bava had so masterfully
conjured in the original cut.
In “The Telephone,” the comely Rosy (Michele Mercier)
is terrified by a series of telephone calls that are seemingly coming in from the
disconnected voice of a dead lover. The
mysterious caller is acutely aware of every movement the terrified woman makes
as she moves about her lush apartment - this despite the fact that her windows
are shuttered and blinds drawn. It’s not
explained with satisfaction why Rosy doesn’t simply call the police right away. There is a passing mention she suspects this
voice from beyond the grave is stalking her due to a betrayal: she, apparently,
earlier had turned her lover into the authorities, though it’s never specified
for what crime. Rosy does eventually alert
a seemingly sympathetic friend (Lidia Alfonsi) to the threatening intrusions, but
there is an unambiguous suggestion this called-upon-ally was a former lover who
may or may not have a vengeful agenda of her own.
Boris Karloff’s moniker was the only one in 1964 that would
have carried any marquee import to an American audience. In BLACK SABBATH,” the seventy-six year old
actor not only stars but also serves as a macabre master of ceremonies of sorts;
he bridges the three disparate episodes with his trademark sinister
intonations. He is also, fittingly, the
uncontested star of the film’s third and final (and anglicized) title, “The
Wurdalak.” This episode is a most gripping
and atmospheric entry, an imaginative and mostly original re-working of Aleksey Konstantinovich
Tolstoy’s 1839 short-story, “La Famille du Vourdalak.”
As the menacing Gorca, Boris Karloff, the long-reigning
king of the horror film, plays – for the very first time in his lengthy and celebrated
career, a genuine vampire. Karloff,
of course, had played an assortment of ghoulish roles dating back to the
silent-era. He was, at any given time,
the Frankenstein monster, the Mummy, Fu Manchu, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde… even detective
Dick Tracy’s fabled nemesis Gruesome. Throughout a half-century plus of celluloid villainy, the off-screen
gentlemanly Karloff was cast almost exclusively as a heavy: he was the maddest
of mad scientists, the most ruthless of gangsters, and the most black-hearted
He plays to type here as well, though there is an
interesting twist to this Eastern European brand of vampirism. Though a vampire by any and all definition of
the word, a Wurdalak, we discover, feasts not on the blood of convenient strangers
but on the sanguine cells and platelets of his very own loved ones. This uncomfortable level of intimacy between the
vampire and his victim is used by Bava to great effect. There is one remarkably creepy moment when,
as his distraught son and daughter-in-law look on in understandable dread, the gaunt
and swollen-red-eyed Karloff chillingly embraces his barely post-toddler grandson
with the most evil of intent.
With apologies to goalie-masked Jason of the Friday the
13th series, this is the stuff of true horror. Kino offers the film in a 1:85:1 ratio, and
includes the aforementioned Tim Lucas commentary track as well as the original
theatrical trailer. Fans of Bava and
Euro-horror might be best served by sticking with the original continental cut of
BLACK SABBATH (available on Kino Classics K1162), but Boris Karloff fans will
need this version for their personal collections. It’s essential.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit up front
that Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir’s character, Remo Williams (aka “The
Destroyer”) has played a small, but significant role in my life.
My older sister had been a high-school friend of one of
the author’s daughters. Though the
passing of time has made the chronology of events a bit hazy, I’m guessing it was
through that friendship that I was first introduced to Warren Murphy’s teenage
son. It was the son who – upon learning
I was a big fan of his father’s pulp-paperback novels – graciously gifted me a personally
autographed copy of The Destroyer #3:
Chinese Puzzle (1972). This now-tattered
paperback proudly sits on my book shelf to this very day. This, I guess, would have been about 1978. I was seventeen years old. I’m fifty-four now and admit I hadn’t much thought
about the Destroyer series for several decades.
Novelist and screenwriter Warren Murphy (The Eiger Sanction, Lethal Weapon 2) died
this past September at age 81. It was
only by chance that I happened to learn of his passing through a small obituary
in The New York Times. That night, with the warm nostalgia of the
Destroyer novels temporarily in mind, I did an internet search and discovered
that the series had spiraled from the dozen or so books of which I was familiar
to upward of 150 titles. Murphy apparently
bowed out following the publication of “Line of Succession” (Destroyer #73) in
1988. That book was also the last to
feature a shared credit with co-creator Richard Sapir who had passed away – too
young, at age 50 - the previous year. It
would be a tangled mess to figure out exactly who wrote what. Like the songwriting team of Lennon and
McCartney, the two had agreed to share credit even when the novels were product
of a single writer’s efforts. The
majority of the Destroyer books from 1988 to present have largely been written
by a series of ghostwriters.
If you weren’t around in the early 1970s, you might not
appreciate this golden-age of the paperback super-secret-agent. With their glossy and colorful cover-art depictions
of evil super-criminals, fiery explosions, wild gun play, grenades and other scenes
of mayhem, this was real-man literature at its finest. Though written in 1963, the first Remo
Williams’ novel “Created, the Destroyer” had languished in a cabinet until its belated
publication in 1971. Truth be told, the
novel might not have seen the light-of-day had it not been for the phenomenal
success of the Pinnacle Books series The
Don Pendleton’s anti-hero Mack Bolan (the
aforementioned Executioner), was an
angry Vietnam veteran at war with the Mafia and other unsavory hooligans
worldwide. The series was wildly popular. By early 1973 it was estimated that The Executioner series had sold some eight-million
copies in the U.S. Soon best-seller
lists, railroad and bus station book kiosks and the revolving paperback racks
in every drug store across America were crammed with titles featuring a new
army of pistol-to-the-cheek anti-heroes. A New York Times article from
March of 1974 identified a number of these pretenders to Mack Bolan’s blood-splattered
throne; there was The Destroyer, The
Butcher, The Death Merchant, The Assassin, The Marksman, The Inquisitor, the
Head Hunter,The Avenger, The Revenger, The Penetrator, and The Baroness. Even that exhaustive list somehow missed acknowledging
the long-running and popular Nick Carter
- Killmaster series and Ernest Tidyman’s John Shaft titles.
Derided as a low-culture phenomenon by literary
critics, these assembly-line novels – filled cover to cover with gratuitous sex
and wanton violence - were undeniably slim and not always well-written; they
were considered the trashy offspring of the time-tested puzzling mystery
novel. The critical backlash was
inevitable and there were periodic sessions of hair-pulling amongst reviewers on
how the publishing industry had arrived at this inglorious moment. Where was blame to be assigned? Some thought the nightly splashed-on-TV-screen
violence of the Vietnam-era had made readers malleable to such literary mayhem. Some blamed the often nonsensical episodic
action-adventure motifs of Ian Fleming’s James Bond as a primary culprit. Others with a better sense of history traced
the disintegration of the traditional mystery novel to Mickey Spillane’s crass
and violent, “I, the Jury” (1947).
The preceding remembrance has been my long-winded way
to say that I was really looking forward to the Kino Lorber Studio Classics DVD
reissue of Remo Williams: The Adventure
Begins (1985). Not only do I hold
warm memories of the Destroyer series, but as a stone-cold James Bond fan, I
was enthused to finally catch this dimly remembered action-flick. Remo
Williams was helmed by Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger,
Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun) from a script by Christopher Wood (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker). Hamilton’s and Wood’s James Bond has always
been the more tongue-in-cheek one, and I expected the filmmakers would adhere
to the best traditions of their tried-and-true playbook.
This isn’t a spy-film… or, rather, it is… of
sorts. The film tends to be an uneasy amalgam
of many genres. Remo Williams is
part-super spy, part super-hero, and part martial-arts master. Conversely, the grim sequence that opens the
film is staged as a throwback to the gritty, New York City “mean streets”
police-dramas of the early 1970s. Following a brutal tangle with a trio of street-thugs on the darkened Brooklyn
waterfront, we’re first introduced to our reluctant anti-hero (Fred Ward) when
his unconscious body is dispassionately pushed into the East River. The bruised and beaten policeman is – intriguingly-
rescued from drowning by a pair of mysterious scuba-divers replete with
underwater flashlights. It’s all been a
set-up. The divers have apparently been waiting on his violent submersion.
The policeman awakes on a hospital gurney following an
indeterminate passage of time, but no longer recognizes his own mirrored reflection. He had been submissively drugged and made to endure
a series of non-sanctioned plastic surgeries. The roguish policeman is, not unexpectedly, both confused and angry. Things become clearer when he is introduced
to intelligence operatives Conn MacCleary (J.A. Preston) and Harold Smith
(Wilfred Brimley). He learns from these two
serious men that he has been selected to serve a top-secret organization, CURE,
which – he’s reminded - doesn’t actually exist for all intent and purposes.
doesn’t exist. Police officer Samuel
Edward Makin, his former self, is now dead and buried. He has been reborn as a mystery man with no
record of ever having existed. He has
been given a new name for the sake of convenience, Remo Williams, and is told that
he’s been chosen to act as a sanctioned assassin since “Our cops are corrupt,
our judges are bought, and our politicians are for sale. Everywhere you look, slime is on the loose.” MacCleary invokes a heretofore little known
“eleventh commandment:” “Thou shall not
get away with it.” It must be said that
this brand of rough justice, no matter how well-intentioned, sounds a bit
fascistic and not very American-like. His
first target, it is explained, is George S. Grove (Charles Cioffi), a shady
multi-millionaire who is ostensibly developing a weapons system for Ronald
Reagan’s “Star Wars” program. CURE has
reason to suspect Grove’s patriotism and wants Williams to eliminate the shady
This non-Constitutional method of offing corrupt
officials and contractors from government posts is entirely intentional. Murphy and Sapir both worked as city-desk editor-reporters
for such Jersey City based dailies as the Hudson
Dispatch and the Jersey Journal. Murphy also served as the beleaguered press
secretary to disgraced Jersey City Mayor Thomas J. Whelan. Whelan was one of the infamous “Hudson County
Eight,” an octet of elected official and cronies prosecuted by New Jersey’s Attorney
General on extortion and conspiracy charges. Murphy would later tell one interviewer that he only turned to writing-fiction
“when everybody I worked for in Jersey City politics went to jail.”
More than a decade following publication of the first Destroyer novel, actor Fred Ward was
tapped by filmmakers to play the rogue CURE assassin Remo Williams. Though he bore little resemblance to the handsome
slim-face agent featured on the paperback covers of the Destroyer series, Ward’s
stoicism, rugged features and twice-broken nose gave him a Charles Bronson-like
macho presence. The film’s oddest bit
of casting was that of Joel Grey, the esteemed Broadway actor and dancer, as
Chiun, a wizened Korean of indeterminate age. The Korean nationalist is a devoted practitioner of the totally fictitious
combat discipline of Sinanju, which
he touts as the most supreme of all martial-arts forms. Sinanju
is something of a religion to Chiun. Which is why, I suppose, no one is terribly surprised to see this inscrutable
master literally walk on water near the film’s climax.
It was reported that the fifty-two year-old Grey wasn’t
originally interested in the role. I first
assumed the actor’s reluctance to play an elderly Korean was simply a matter of
aesthetics. Having seen the movie, I now
suspect the actor’s initial reluctance was the result of his reading the
script. Christopher Wood’s screenplay does
little to present Chiun as anything more than a tired cliché: he’s merely one more in a long-line of
mysterious and inscrutable wise-men from the East. In testament to his gift as an actor, Grey
nearly manages to pull off the charade. Thanks
to the amazing work of Academy Award nominated make-up artist Carl Fullerton,
Grey is convincingly re-cast in his appearance.
The master and unwitting student first cross paths in a
basement apartment. Unaware that Chiun
is on the CURE team, the initial meeting between the Sa Bum Nim (“Master Instructor”) and his reluctant protégé soon
turns violent. In the course of the played-for-laughs
dust-up that follows, we learn that Chiun has achieved such mastery of Sinanju that he has developed his
reflexes to the point he can outmaneuver a bullet fired at close range. This skill, of course, will later come in
In the interest of more dramatically documenting Remo’s
conversion from slothful beat-cop to athletic super-agent, we’re made to
witness the transformation in something resembling real-time. The better part of the movie’s first hour is
wasted on only mildly amusing vignettes of Remo’s schooling in Sinanju practices. He’s taught to walk stealthily on the ledges
of high-rise buildings, to hang by his fingertips from Coney Island’s famed Wonder
Wheel, and to participate in any number of challenges that seem a template for television’s
Ninja Warrior obstacle-course series. Sadly, such turgid pacing is what,
eventually, dooms the film’s already lagging narrative. There’s very little sense of urgency
throughout the movie’s two-hour-long running time, no ticking time-bomb to engender
suspense. The tracking down of nefarious
industrialist George Groves is reduced to nothing more than a convenient and disposable
sub-plot. There’s also a cinematically opportunistic
but non-starting romance between Remo and smitten U.S. Army Major Rayner
Fleming (Kate Mulgrew) that – like so much in this film - amounts to little in
I’ve never known quite what to make of Carlo Lizzani’s
‘Requiescant’ (1967), the director’s second and last foray into spaghetti
westerns. I saw it before I had the chance to view his first western, ‘The
Hills Run Red’ (1966) and had high hopes for the film – based on the fact that
it was screened in September 1993 on BBC2 in the season of ‘Moviedrome’ cult
films and it came highly recommended by Alex Cox. I’m a big fan of Lizzani’s ‘The
Hills Run Red’. I don’t know why, but from the moment I saw it, I loved it. Ennio
Morricone’s music helps, as does the great cast, including grandstanding Henry
Silva, beautiful Nicoletta Machiavelli, leathery old Dan Duryea and massively
underrated Thomas Hunter. I know I am largely alone in my assessment and
enthusiasm, but for those who make lists, I deem it Top-20 spaghetti western material.
Following on from ‘Day of Anger’ and ‘Cemetery Without
Crosses’, Lizzani’s ‘Requiescant’ is Arrow Films’ third spaghetti western release
on Blu-ray and DVD. It’s also known by the titles ‘Kill and Pray’ and ‘Let Them
Rest’. First off, it feels much more like an ‘Italian’ film than most spaghetti
westerns, mainly due to an absence of Spanish supporting players and exclusively
Italian location filming in Lazio (rather than Spain’s Madrid or Andalusia
provinces). And the presence of legendary director Pier Paolo Pasolini, one of
the most recognised and recognisable faces in Italian, indeed world cinema, is simply
distracting when he pops up as Don Juan, a pistol packing priest with a social
conscience. Like the ‘Jesus Christ, it’s Henry Fonda!’ casting coup moment from
Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, this is ‘OMG, it’s PPP!’
An Italian-West German co-production, ‘Requiescant’
stars Lou Castel (who played the young assassin in ‘A Bullet for the General’)
as a Mexican boy who is the only survivor of a massacre of Mexican peons at
Fort Hernandez. The perpetrator was San Antonio landowner George Bellow
Ferguson (a demonic Mark Damon, cast against type), who with his cadre of
gunmen has stolen their borderlands with bogus treaties. The boy is found
wandering in the desert and is adopted by travelling priest Father Jeremy and
his family, but when he grows to adulthood, he abandons the ways of the Lord.
He discovers his true vocation when he inadvertently foils a stagecoach hold-up
and finds he is naturally gifted with a six-gun. His proficiency leads to him
becoming something of a hero to the local Mexican population, who call him
Requiescant, as in ‘rest in peace’ in Latin, due to his ritual of reading a
prayer over his victims’ corpses. Requiescant’s step-sister Princy (Barbara
Frey) runs away to become a showgirl, but ends up in forced prostitution in a
seedy San Antonio saloon/bordello run by Ferguson’s henchman Dean Light (Carlo
Palmucci), which in classic spaghetti western tradition sets Requiescant
against the murderer of his real parents.
The film’s tone veers from tragedy to comedy, and
Castel makes an offbeat hero, even for spaghetti westerns. At some moments he plays
the film as a spoof, as when he encourages his horse to speed up by using a
frying pan to hit its rump and in his tactic of mounting a horse, first by climbing
onto a hitching rail then into the saddle. In complete contrast to Clint
Eastwood’s Man With No Name, Requiescant is something of a bumbler, with his
holster slung on a piece of rope, but no one can argue with his accuracy with a
pistol. There are some totally strange moments in the film also, as when
Requiescant hides out at Fort Hernandez and discovers the bleached-out
skeletons of the Mexican victims of Ferguson’s massacre scattered behind the
palisade – it is these corpses from the past that must also ‘Rest in Peace’,
but only when their murders have been avenged. In another noteworthy scene, Requiescant
faces Dean Light in a pistol duel, with both participants standing on stools
with their heads in nooses (as Tuco the Ugly tried to execute Blondie the Good)
which is timed by the midnight strike of a clock. At one point Princy is forced
to swallow a drug that makes her hallucinate and much is made of the simple
rural characters’ naivety against the savvy, capitalist businessmen.
For its lack of authentic spaghetti western atmosphere,
‘Requiescant’ is a definite curio for a number or reasons. It’s more realistic
than many spaghetti westerns. Here the poor Mexican revolutionaries collect
Requiescant’s victims valuable weapons, rather than leaving them lying around
with the corpses, as Clint’s Man With No Name does in the ‘Dollars’ films. What
makes the film of real interest is its unusual cast. Mark Damon is a cloaked
villain from the cobwebs of Italian gothic horror, a relic of the Old South,
like Joseph Cotton’s delusional patriarchs in ‘The Tramplers’ (1965) and ‘The
Hellbenders’ (1966). All-powerful and sadistic, he keeps his wife Edith
(Mirella Maravidi) in a padded cell and later, after she has helped Requiescant
escape, he garrottes her. He also uses his Mexican servant (Luisa Baratto) as a
live target – she holds a candelabra aloft – in his wine cellar shooting
gallery. Ferguson’s views are typical Reconstruction Era rants: slaves were
‘looked after’ by their Southern masters, while the north exploited them with a
minimum wage, and the Mexican farmers ‘don’t deserve’ to own land.
‘Requiescant’ ends with a tableau (of the revolutionaries riding away to their
next battle, while others till the land) that could have appeared in any socio-political
agrarian Italian film and resembles rural neorealism. Here the western setting is
simply a vehicle for the discussion of wider issues. This is a far cry from
‘The Hill’s Run Red’, a Dino De Laurentiis production released internationally
by United Artists and a much more straightforward (and commercially successful)
revenge film. Lizzani directed ‘Hills’ as a favour to De Laurentiis, but used
the pseudonym ‘Lee W. Beaver’. ‘Requiescant’ is obviously a much more personal
project for Lizzani, who made a series of highly political films. Along with
the appearance of director Pasolini in ‘Requiescant’, Pasolini’s regular actors
Franco Citti and Ninetto Davoli appeared: the former as two-fingered badman
Burt (who is particularly fond of his blond toy doll) and the latter as Niño, a
Mexican trumpeter. Their presence – a distinctly Italian presence – creates a
rather strange atmosphere which might be termed ‘Prairie Pasolini’.
The year 1969 was a particularly good one for Glen Campbell. With America under siege by a tidal wave of bad news about Vietnam, race riots, revolts on campus and other seemingly endless divisive issues, there was a niche for wholesome entertainment that Campbell was able to fill. He had recently proven he could cross over from the country and western charts to general audiences. Seemingly everyone loved his music. Campbell even appealed to younger audiences and he shared the top ranks of the pop music charts with acts The Rolling Stones and The Kinks. With his good looks, down-home gentle humor and songs about unrequited love, Campbell provided the perfect salve for America's wounds. He even made a notable splash on the big screen that year with a very credible acting debut as John Wayne's co-star in the classic "True Grit". Adding to his success, CBS signed him to host a weekly variety show titled "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour". The program was successful and ran for three full seasons. Seemingly, Glen Campbell could do no wrong in 1969.
Shout! Factory has released two full Christmas specials from "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" which aired in 1969 and 1970. Both episodes provide a reflection back on an era in which television was still resisting the new-found freedoms that Hollywood was embracing. In 1969 such groundbreaking films as "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice", "Easy Rider", "Midnight Cowboy" and "The Wild Bunch" had explored sex and violence in a manner that would have been unthinkable even a few years before. However, the TV industry in America was still playing it safe, catering to family-oriented fare and inoffensive sitcoms. The dam would break the following year with the premiere of Norman Lear's "All in the Family", but the three major networks had to be coerced into relevancy. For all of that, the sludge pile that represents most programming on network TV today makes one pine away for this more innocent era. At least the shows were good and one misses the complete absence today of the traditional variety show, which "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" represented. If you didn't like one song or comedy sketch, just hang in there as there were plenty more coming your way. Of the two programs presented on this DVD, the stronger entry is the 1969 Christmas show. The guest line-up reminds us of how many larger-than-life entertainers used to populate the medium in an era before cheesy "reality" shows defined television. In the 1969 show, Campbell's guests include such icons as Andy Griffith, Cher and Paul Lynde. Campbell presides over the festivities with charm and self-confidence, never attempting to upstage his guests. As was the case with variety show sketches from this period, the ones on the DVD probably seemed a lot funnier back in the day than they do today. The skits are too long and weakly written, though it is undeniably fun just to see these entertainers together on screen. Griffith and Lynde limp through a couple of comedy bits including one now predictable premise of a disgruntled Santa Claus in the throes of self-pity, complaining that no one appreciates him in the "younger generation". Griffith is a sympathetic bartender who keeps serving Santa doses of milk. The show is at its best from a musical perspective. Cher, looking gorgeous, performs a soulful rendition of Otis Redding's "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" while Campbell presents some terrific versions of haunting beautiful hits like "Galveston" and "Wichita Lineman". He even knocks out a credible version of Mason Williams' superb acoustical hit "Classical Gas". Later in the show, he introduces his wife and young family as well as his troupe of regular singers and dancers. They all gather around and sing traditional Christmas carols as a finale. (Keep an eye on the final credits- yes, this was from an era when shows actually had credits- and note that one of the comedy writers was an aspiring comic named Steve Martin!). The 1970 Christmas show pretty much follows the same format: a mix of comedy sketches, hit songs and traditional carols. This time, however, Campbell also introduces his mom and dad who do a fine job performing "Crying Time". Then Campbell's three sisters also join in and prove to be fine crooners in their own right. This episode features guest stars Anne Murray, Mel Tellis, Jerry Reed, Shecky Greene, George Gobel and Larry McNeely. The comedy sketches are as lame as the ones on the 1969 show, though Greene and McNeely do perform a rather nice, silent tribute to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The finale finds the giant cast gathering in a living room setting to sing carols. The sheer warmth and good will of the segment makes you momentarily feel as though you actually are in a neighbor's living room (assuming your neighbor's living room has klieg lights and Shecky Greene).
The Shout! Factory DVD presents these long-unseen programs uncut and in pristine condition. Today, Glen Campbell's very public, courageous battle against the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease has made him the subject of a great deal of attention, including a feature length documentary. However, this DVD release reminds us that the man's legacy should not be that of a victim but, rather, of a major entertainer who had a long and remarkable career.
On the eve of the November 1963 release of TWICE TOLD
TALES, the British actor Sebastian Cabot would tell a reporter from the Copley
News Service, “They’ve been after me to do more of the horror pictures with
Vincent Price. I wouldn’t mind that a
bit, though I must say I wouldn’t want to do them exclusively.” He intimated that he and his co-star had
discussed a possible future pairing in “a light comedy” motion-picture. Alas, it was not to be; the two actors would
not work together again. Cabot, of
course, would soldier on and enjoy success as both a television personality and
a recognizable voice-over actor. Following
the passing of Boris Karloff in 1969, Vincent Price would reign as the big-screen’s
uncontested “King of Horror.” Cabot’s estimation of Price as an actor
“extremely adept” at light-comedy was incisive. Throughout his long and fabled career, Vincent Price’s on-screen
ghoulishness would nearly always be mitigated with a wry smile and twinkle in
TWICE TOLD TALES is the second of two quickie vehicles
in which Price starred for Robert E. Kent’s Admiral Pictures, Inc. (1962-1963). For their first pairing, DIARY OF A MADMAN
(released in March 1963 and distributed through United Artists), Kent mined the
imagination of the great French short-story writer Henri-René-Albert-Guy de
Maupassant. That film’s ballyhoo
proclaimed it “The Most Terrifying Motion Picture Ever Created!” It most
certainly wasn’t, but the film still managed to be a worthwhile psychological
thriller - though one that didn’t particularly resonate at the box-office. In what was obviously an attempt to
capitalize on the low-budget but big commercial success of Roger Corman’s Edgar
Allan Poe adaptations for A.I.P, Kent quickly changed course and ambitiously turned
to the short stories and novels of Nathanial Hawthorne for material.
Though a descendant of John Hathorne, the unrepentant
magistrate who presided over the fate of several innocents during Salem,
Massachusetts’s celebrated witch trials, Nathanial Hawthorne was a
romanticist: he was not prominently a
writer of mysteries or of fantastic fiction. Having said that, Hawthorne was not averse to penning a good ghost story
or two and his talent had won him the praise of contemporaries. One such fan was Edgar Allan Poe himself. In his review of Hawthorne’s two volume
collection of short stories TWICE TOLD TALES for Graham’s Magazine in May of
1842, Poe unabashedly pronounced the New Englander as “a man of truest genius…
As Americans, we feel proud of this book.”
Of course Hollywood producers have always somehow
managed to take great creative liberties with the acknowledged classics. Stories of cigar-chomping producers passing
on tracts of classic literature so their stable of writers might “give ‘em a
polish” are legion. Though Roger
Corman’s series of Poe films both successfully and artistically mined the great
man’s work for their tortured characters, grim atmosphere and elements of plot,
Corman himself rarely offered filmgoers a straight-forward re-telling of any of
the doomed author’s fabled tales.
Producer-writer, Robert E. Kent seems to have taken a
similar, albeit far less successful, approach with his production of TWICE TOLD
TALES. Only segment two of this trilogy
film, “Rappaccini’s Daughter” closely resembles Hawthorne’s original story, and
even that diverges when at odds with cinematic expectations. In “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” a sinister
love-triangle between Dr. Carl Heidegger (the corpulent Sebastian Cabot), Alex
Medbourne (Price) and the recently revived but still exquisite corpse of Sylvia
Ward (Marie Blanchard) is re-engineered as to feature an original - if
salacious - back-story. This “Virgin
Spring” elixir-of-eternal-youth morality-fable plays out with little fidelity to
the original tale.
Original comic book tie-in.
Such creative-license is stretched to the breaking
point with the film’s final episode, “The House of the Seven Gables.” This segment bears little resemblance to Hawthorne’s
celebrated novel, but it has borrowed elements from the better known – and far
more lavish – 1940 Universal film of the same title. The Universal film, perhaps not
coincidentally, also featured Vincent Price in a starring role, though this
tale, too, strayed far from Hawthorne’s original. Though I recall no physical blood-letting in
the Hawthorne novel, in TWICE TOLD TALES the sanguine red fluid pours freely– and
mostly unconvincingly, it must be said - from ceilings, walls, portraits, and
lockets. The Pyncheon’s family’s metaphorical
skeleton-in-the-closet becomes all too real in this rather uninspired
Part of the film’s original marketing stratagem was the
offer of “FREE COFFEE in the lobby to settle your nerves!” One might suggest, with a measure of
cynicism, that such brew was a necessary component in helping to keep audiences
awake. TWICE TOLD TALES is, to be
generous, a very good ninety-minute film. The problem is that the filmmakers stretched this ninety-minute film to an
interminable two-hour running time.
This is a “sitting room” or “parlor” film; most of the
action (as it is) takes place in mildly claustrophobic confines of small home
settings with long stretches of unbroken dialogue. There are very few provocative set-pieces employed
over the course of three segments and the most ambitious of these, the deadly
and poisonous garden of Dr. Giacomo Rappaccini (Price), is only experienced in sun-soaked
broad daylight. This supposedly lethal
garden is both terribly over-lit and ill-disguised in its construction (the
seams of the faux-grass mats are clearly visible). As such, this potentially visual and cinematic
garden of death portends little of its intended menace. If only love-struck suitor Giovanni Guasconti
(Brett Halsey) could have encountered the beautiful but lethal Beatrice
Rappaccini (Joyce Taylor) in a blue-swathed moonlight setting, the garden’s mysterious
atmosphere would have been instantly heightened.
Kent’s too-wordy screenplay suffers occasional patches
of purple prose, but it’s serviceable. There are a couple of great moments: Cabot’s toast of the glass prior to his experimental drinking of a fluid
that may or may not kill him (“To eternal youth, or just eternity?”). In “Rappaccini’s Daughter” we’re not sure, at
first, of who is a prisoner to whom. Is
it the estranged daughter to the father, or the father to the daughter? When all is made clear, we can better understand
the poisoned daughter’s bitter complaint, “The only difference from being dead
is that this house is bigger than a grave.”
TWICE TOLD TALES is no classic, but it’s not unworthy
of one’s time. Vincent Price is, as
always, brilliant in all three of the villainous roles he inhabits. The supporting cast is mostly great as well,
and Kent, unashamedly, brings aboard several of the familiar players who earlier
worked with Corman on the Poe series. Director
Sidney Salkow was, sadly, no auteur. Though he had been directing and writing films – and bringing them in
under or on budget - for both
independent and major studios as early as 1936, it’s clear he was most
interested in producing a satisfying checkmark in the company’s profit ledger and
not terribly concerned with film-as-art. Though Salkow’s films are never less than
competent, they’re generally pedestrian and not particularly memorable. As helmsman, Salkow simply possessed none of
Corman’s visual-style or displayed any ability to stage an impressive production
on a shoestring budget.
To be fair, Corman had advantages. His gothic films were European in design: his settings were of torch-lit gloomy and
brooding castles, of misty streets of cobblestone and black twisted tree-limbs. Two of the TWICE TOLD TALES, on the other
hand, are set in the non-atmospheric repose of 19th-century small-town
America. With the small exception of a creepy
sequence in which a thunder and lightning-storm disturbs a tomb that had been
sealed for thirty-eight years (and sits, inexplicably, just to the rear of Dr.
Heidegger’s back-door), the dressing that surrounds TWICE TOLD TALES demonstrates little
of the macabre ingredients necessary for mounting a successful horror film.
This release from Kino-Lorber Studio Classics presents
TWICE TOLD TALES for the first time in the U.S. in a Blu-Ray edition. The film is presented in Technicolor and in its
original 1.66:1 ratio. Bonus features
include an optional commentary from film scholars Richard Harland Smith and
Perry Martin, as well as trailers for the title film as well as Corman’s TALES
OF TERROR and BLACK SABBATH. A brief
“Trailers from Hell” segment is also included, courtesy of Mick Garris.
JOHN WAYNE: THE EPIC COLLECTION DEBUTS -NOW SHIPPING!
DVD COLLECTION OF 40 WARNER AND PARMOUNT FILMS IS LARGEST JOHN WAYNE BOX SET EVER
INCLUDES HOURS OF SPECIAL FEATURES AND REMARKABLE MEMORABILIA
AMAZON BUYERS GET EXCLUSIVE WAYNE BELT BUCKLE
Here is the original press release:
commemorate one of America’s most iconic film heroes, Warner Bros. Home
Entertainment will introduce a comprehensive new DVD set -- John
Wayne: The Epic Collection-- on May 20. The spring release, just in
time for Father’s Day gift-giving ($149.98 SRP), will contain 38 discs with 40
Wayne films (full list below), including The
Searchers, once called one of the most influential movies in American
history and the film for which Wayne
won his Best Actor Academy Award®, True Grit (1969). The collection comes packaged in a handsome book with
unique collectibles and hours of special features.
The coffee table book includes a
chronological presentation of Wayne films, enhanced with wonderful photographs;
the hours of special features include commentaries, documentaries, featurettes,
vintage shorts and classic cartoons; and the special John Wayne collectibles include
personal correspondence, script pages/covers, pages with Wayne’s notations and
Wayne’s legacy will also be celebrated at the 4th
annual John Wayne Film Festival in Dallas from April 24th through
the 27th. The four-day festival will feature screenings of some of
Wayne’s classic feature films, Q + A sessions with Wayne family members and
co-stars, and parties celebrating the John Wayne heritage and legacy. All the
proceeds from the festival will benefit the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.
In making the announcement of the new
collection, Jeff Baker, WHV’s Executive VP and General Manager, Theatrical
Catalog said, “Thanks to our recent strategic alliance with Paramount and their
catalog titles, we’re delighted to be able to offer this number of titles representing
such a broad range of Wayne’s work. Wayne was one of the most popular film stars
ever. For more than a quarter century he was one of the tops at the worldwide box-office.
This collection will certainly be a ‘must have’ for loyal John Wayne fans and,
hopefully, will have an equal appeal to younger folks who want to learn more
Born Marion Robert Morrison in
Winterset, Iowa, John Wayne first worked in the film business as a laborer on
the Fox lot during summer vacations from U.S.C., which he attended on a
football scholarship. He met and was befriended by John Ford,
a young director who was beginning to make a name for himself in action films,
comedies and dramas. It was Ford who recommended Wayne for his first leading
For the next nine years, Wayne worked
in a multitude of B-Westerns and serials in between bit parts in larger
features. Wayne’s big break came in 1939, when Ford cast him as the Ringo Kid
in the adventure Stagecoach. Wayne
nearly stole the picture from his more seasoned co-stars, and his career as a
box-office superstar began. During his 50 year film career, Wayne played the
lead in more than 140 movies, an as yet unsurpassed
record, and was nominated for three Academy Awards®, winning the Best
Actor award for his performance in True
Discs In John Wayne: The Epic Collection
Big Stampede/Ride Him Cowboy/Haunted Gold, 1932
Telegraph Trail/Somewhere in Sonora/Man from Monterey, 1933
The Warner Archive has released the 1964 comedy "Honeymoon Hotel". The film, made just a few years before the liberalization of sex in the American cinema, is a labored affair with a sterling cast that is largely wasted due to a ludicrous script and leaden direction. This is somewhat surprising because the screenwriters- R.S. Allen and Harvey Bullock- were hot properties at the time, having written some truly classic sitcoms and memorable feature films. Here, they drop the ball with a script that resembles a horny 15 year-old boy's viewpoint of romance and sex. The film opens by introducing us to two best friends, Ross Kingsley (Robert Goulet) and Jay Menlow (Robert Morse), who revel in the fact that they share a Manhattan bachelor pad where they entertain a steady stream of female conquests. The handsome and devilish Ross is clearly the main magnet for the willing women, but even nerdy Jay is doing alright for himself. Thus, it puzzles Ross as to why Jay is about to marry traditional good girl Cynthia (Anne Helm). The story shifts to the scene of the opulent wedding. Just before the rituals can be carried out, however, Cynthia observes Jay and Ross ogling her friend Lynn Hope (Nancy Kwan). She has a public hissy fit and calls off the wedding. The ever-resourceful Ross realizes that Jay is now stuck with a honeymoon package to a tropical island for two that appears to be useless. Not wanting to let the opportunity pass by, he convinces Jay to go on the trip and take him along on Cynthia's ticket. The plan is to get Jay over his grief by getting back into the world of womanizing. Where better to do so than a tropical isle? The two men check into Honeymoon Hotel without realizing that it adheres to a strict policy of catering to newlyweds only. Through a string of coincidences the strict desk clerk misses the fact that two men are checking into the same room. This leads to any number of double entrendres and opportunities to overact as the maids come to realize that two guys appear to be on a honeymoon together. (Keep in mind this was 1964). Ross and Jay ponder why they are striking out with the female guests until they finally learn of their dilemma. Just when their libidos seem destined for disaster, they conveniently discover that there is one single woman on the property: Lynn Hope, who is the social director of the resort. This sets in motion a string of coincidences that are so unbelievable they would be more appropriate in a science fiction film. Predictably, Ross woos Lynn but on the verge of getting her into bed, she runs into Jay and learns of Ross's reputation as a serial seducer. She then plays Jay and Ross against each other in a pedantic series of scenarios in which each man thinks he will be the one to score with her. Finally, Ross legitimately falls for Lynn and in true storybook tradition, makes plans to finally settle down with the right girl. Then everything goes to hell in the film's wacky but dreadful conclusion in which one of his former conquests, Sherry (Jill St. John in typical air-headed floozy mode) arrives as the resort as the mistress to Ross's crusty boss (Keenan Wynn). In the increasingly ridiculous scenario, the boss's wife turns up because she suspects he is dallying with other women. Then Cynthia appears out of nowhere to see if she can reconcile with Jay. The situations that follow find Sherry being passed around by the males like an appetizer on a platter as each man finds he has to hide her presence from his significant other. Bedroom farces can be quite funny if carried out competently but Levin proves he isn't up to the task. The cast gamely goes through the manic pacing but there isn't a genuine laugh to be found.
The biggest disappointment with "Honeymoon Hotel" is the squandering of the admirable talent on screen. Goulet always had a fine screen presence in addition to being an impressive crooner. With his model-like good looks he should have been a much bigger star in films, but he seemed to primarily be relegated to mid-range fare like this. Morse made it big by being cast repeatedly as a "Jerry Lewis Lite". His aping of the comedy legend is so apparent that it was wonder he wasn't sued for identity theft. Morse has talent but he's reduced to enacting ridiculous scenarios that are completely out of place in what is supposed to be an adult romantic comedy. Other victims include fine supporting actors like Elsa Lanchester , who is consigned to a tiny role as a maid and the great British character actor Bernard Fox who plays the rigid desk clerk. Nancy Kwan is especially wasted, a fact the producers seemed to have realized because they shoehorn in a pretentious dance routine designed to show off her talents in that area despite the fact that it comes completely out of left field and doesn't even fit in the context of the sequence. Everything about "Honeymoon Hotel" is second rate. The film's bare bones budget is reflected by the fact that the closest the cast got to a tropical isle was a few hours shooting at a local beach a few miles from MGM's back lot. The opulent resort depicted in the film is stuffed with claustrophobic sets and an abundance of plastic palm trees. I've seen more convincing recreations of island life in department store summer patio displays. Even the "bachelor pad" is the recycled set from the "bachelor pad" seen in the previous year's MGM comedy, the far superior "Sunday in New York". Although the movie attempts to be risque with its sexual themes, the producers didn't have the courage to go beyond some smarmy one-liners. The honeymoon resort is populated by couples who appear to never stop copulating but the biggest laugh in the film is an unintentional one: the bedrooms in the suites all have separate beds, which makes the film as sexually daring as an episode of "I Love Lucy". "Honeymoon Hotel" might have been construed as a sex comedy but it's as flaccid as....well, a wet noodle.
Scott became a top box-office draw starring in 105 movies in a career which
lasted for nearly four decades. He’s best remembered as a western icon in a
career that, in many ways, rivals that of John Wayne. While the Duke made
movies into the mid 1970s and made appearances on TV until his death in 1979, Scott
retired from acting in 1962 after making “Ride the High Country” for Sam
Peckinpah. Scott was 64 and felt he could not surpass his performance in that
movie. He remained happily retired until his death in 1987 at the age of 87.
like the Duke, is known for his collaboration with an iconic larger-than-life
Hollywood director. In Scott’s case the honor goes to Budd Boetticher. They
made seven movies together and “The Tall T” is among their best efforts. Based
on a story by Elmore Leonard with a screenplay by future western director Burt
Kennedy, the story is simple and starts out at a leisurely pace.
plays Pat Brennan, a former ranch hand with a small ranch of his own who wants
to make a deal with his former employer at the Tall T. On the way he visits a
friend and his son who operate a stage coach water stop outside of town. The
boy admires the heroic Pat and asks if he will pick up some candy in town which
Pat agrees to do. In town Pat meets up with Ed Rintoon, the local stage coach
driver, played by Arthur Hunnicutt. They discuss the recent marriage of local
mine heiress Doretta, played by Maureen O’Sullivan, (Jane in the MGM Tarzan
series), to the opportunist Willard Mims who married her for her wealth. Pat
heads over to the Tall T to purchase a bull for his small ranch, but after
making a bet with his former employer who wants him back, ends up losing his
horse when he fails in his bid to ride the bull.
his way on foot with candy, saddle and pack in hand, Pat is picked up by
Rintoon who is transporting newlyweds Willard and Doretta Mims. Willard would
just as soon not pick up Pat, but is persuaded by Doretta. They make there way
to the water stop which is strangely empty. Three men with guns are waiting for
the bank stagecoach and have murdered the boy and his father and kill Rintoon
after a brief shootout. Willard selfishly convinces the outlaws that his wife
is worth holding for a ransom and makes a deal allowing him to deliver a
message to her father.
Boone plays Frank Usher, the leader of the gang, and he agrees that a ransom
may be a better option than a stagecoach robbery. He’s aided by Henry Silva as
Chink and Skip Homeier as Billy Jack. Frank claims to be a man with moral values
like Pat while Chink and Billy are only interested in getting drunk and
spending time at any available whorehouse. Billy keeps the candy Pat brought
for the murdered boy and the candy is slapped from his hand by Frank. Frank,
Chink and Billy take Pat and Doretta to a desert hideout and wait for Willard’s
return. The men make it clear that they are willing to kill their captives and
Pat realizes that all three will be dead when the ransom is delivered. Boone is
terrific as Frank Usher. Frank is a complicated bad guy who understands the
moral code of good men like Pat Brennan. In typical anti-hero fashion, Frank
tries to convince Frank that he’s not like Chink and Billy. He isn’t, but that
doesn’t stop Frank from using Pat’s moral code in order to manipulate everyone.
“Tall T” would appear to be an odd choice for the title of this movie. The
ranch plays a very small part in the movie and is never discussed after Pat
loses the bet. The original title was "The Captives" which is the
title of Elmore Leonard's original story. "The
Tall Rider" is believed by some to be still another pre-release title, but
the final title was changed to "The Tall T" which is the name of the
Tenvoorde ranch. The movie is enjoyable and the performances by Scott, Boone,
O’Sullivan, Hunnicutt and Silva are a testament to Boetticher as an auteur of
highly stylized westerns. Henry Silva is of particular interest as the villainous
Chink and his performance manages to slightly outdo Boone who is also in top
by Columbia in April 1957, the sound quality on the disc is near perfect and
the Technicolor is beautifully preserved in widescreen. The movie is only 78
minutes long and it feels like it should be longer. The movie was previously
released on DVD by Sony as part of “The Films of Budd Boetticher” and was one
of five Scott/Boetticher movies in the set which is loaded with extras. That
set is out of print and can fetch a premium price on-line. This version of “The
Tall T” is a burn to order DVD released as part of the Sony Choice Collection
and there are no extras on the disc which starts up without a menu.
of a Murder” is a movie filled to the brim with great moments starting with the
Saul Bass opening credits and the score by Duke Ellington to the beautiful
black and white widescreen photography as well as the top notch performances by
every member of the cast and the masterful direction by Otto Preminger. There’s
so much to like about this 1959 drama which is set primarily in a courtroom, bar,
jail and an attorney’s office. The
opening shot with James Stewart driving to Iron City on his return from a
fishing trip is terrific and the great moments continue through to the final
scene as the sound of a trumpet squeals in delight after 160 minutes of
cinematic joy. The movie can arguably be summed up as a masterpiece and it is the
very definition of a classic.
tells the story of a small town lawyer defending a man who murders his wife’s
alleged rapist. James Stewart is Paul Biegler, a lawyer one can only imagine
being portrayed by James Stewart. Ben Gazzara plays hot tempered Army Lt.
Frederick Manion who is married to the beautiful Laura. Lee Remick is perfect
as the sexy wife seeking the attention of men knowing full well it drives her
movie is filled with outstanding supporting performances by many of the great
character actors of the period. Arthur O’Connell is perfect as Stewart’s
alcoholic colleague Parnell and Eve Arden is his loyal secretary Maida. Orson
Bean, Murray Hamilton, Howard McNear and Kathryn Grant fill out the outstanding
supporting cast. George C. Scott arrives about a half hour into the action as
Asst. State Atty. Gen. Claude Dancer who is on hand to assist the prosecution
and exchange barbs and insults with Stewart. Special mention should also be
made of Joseph N. Welch, a real life lawyer who was cast as Judge Weaver.
(Welch was famously an adversary of Sen. Joseph McCarthy).
plays the sultry young wife and rape victim who tries to seduce almost every
man she encounters including Stewart, who rejects her advances more than once. The
movie was controversial at the time of release for its frank discussions of sex
and the use of the words “bitch,” “contraceptive,” “panties,” “penetration,” “rape,”
“slut” and “sperm.” There’s a great scene during the trial where the judge
discusses the appropriateness of using the word “panties” during the trial.
It’s hard to believe today where language far harsher than this is common on TV
and few words have shock value.
movie has received several releases on home video over several decades on VHS,
laserdisc, DVD and Blu Ray. Columbia originally released the movie on DVD in
2000 and that release included trailers and a photo montage. The movie looked
pretty good on that DVD release and it looks even better on this made-to-order DVD
released via the Sony Pictures Choice Collection. The Criterion Collection
released a special edition on DVD and Blu Ray in 2012 which is loaded with
extras. This Sony release is bare bones and doesn’t even have a menu with the
movie starting up soon after loading. The picture quality on this release is outstanding
and may be based on the same transfer used in the Criterion edition. For those
in search of a movie only edition, this burn to order release may be the way to
criminal Jerry Barker (Ralph Meeker) demands $200,000 in ransom from the
wealthy father of a missing 10-year-old boy, whom Barker has hidden away in an
abandoned fire tower in Royal Gorge National Park, Colorado. Jerry successfully collects the ransom, but
the boy accidentally dies trying to get out of the tower, and after Jerry coldly
disposes of the body, he’s caught in a police cordon before he can get
away. Jim Madden, the FBI agent on the
case (Reed Hadley), doesn’t have the evidence needed to bring a kidnapping
charge, since the boy’s body hasn’t been found, and Barker refuses to
talk. So Barker, nicknamed “Iceman” by
the press because of his recalcitrance, is sent to prison on extortion. The authorities hope he’ll eventually break
down and confess to the more serious crime. Meanwhile, Madden doggedly continues to pursue clues.
bars, Jerry is ostracized by other inmates, even his hardened cellmates Mason
(William Talman), Smith (Lon Chaney), and Kelly (Charles Bronson). The other cons have heard about the crime and
figure that Jerry not only abducted the missing boy, he also murdered him. (“Kid killer . . . that’s really scrapin’ the
bottom of the barrel!” Kelly sneers over the top of a bodybuilder
magazine.) But the fourth cellmate,
Rollo (Broderick Crawford), has a better idea. The ransom money hasn’t been found either. Rollo convinces the others to take Barker
with them when they execute an already-planned escape, so that he’ll lead them
to the missing money.
House, U.S.A.,” a modest 1955 Bel-Air/United Artists release, is a relatively
obscure slice of ‘50s crime cinema, despite the presence of stellar plug-uglies
Meeker, Crawford, Bronson, Chaney, and Talman in the main cast. Maybe it’s gotten lost in the myriad of other
crime and noir movies from the decade that have “Big” in the title. Or maybe the students of auteur cinema, who
are usually the first to unearth gems in the trash heap of low-budget films,
have overlooked it because it wasn’t directed by Don Siegel, Phil Karlson, or
Sam Fuller (the director was the prolific but relatively unheralded Howard W.
Koch). Too, the title may be a turnoff
for crime-film buffs and critics who don’t particularly care for prison
stories. It’s actually a misnomer
because the prison scenes (filmed inside McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary)
comprise less than a third of the movie.
truth, the script is all over the B-movie landscape, in a good way, from the
methodical scenes about the kidnapping (particularly creepy these days, when
stories about child predators are all over the news), to the procedural scenes
of the FBI agent questioning witnesses, with voiceover by Hadley, to the
inevitable double-crosses among the escaped cons. In addition to the gritty, sweaty scenes at
McNeil’s Island, the movie also features on-location shooting in Royal Gorge
and nearby Canon City, all in no-nonsense black-and-white, heightening the
sense of documentarian realism. Some of
the script doesn’t quite hang together -- for example, it doesn’t seem likely
that the combined forces of the FBI, the park service, and state and local law
enforcement couldn’t find the missing son of a millionaire, alive or dead, even
in a sprawling wilderness park. But film
buffs likely will be too busy spotting familiar ‘50s faces in the supporting
cast to care. Those faces include
Felicia Farr (here billed in an early role as Randy Farr), Roy Roberts, Robert
Bray, Jan Merlin, John Ford stalwart Willis Bouchey, and Jack Webb regular Bill
new Kino Lorber release, in 1920x1080p hi-def, continues the label’s rescue of
neglected but interesting movies that deserve new exposure. The visual quality is somewhat grainy, as
you’d expected from an older film, but that isn’t necessarily a drawback for a
hardboiled crime drama. The only extras
are trailers for three other Kino Lorber releases.
If there is one scene that sums up the
tone of Sergio Martino's Craving Desire, it is the climax. After her true nature is revealed, a deranged
Sonia (Vittoria Belvedere) begins to sensually strip down to nothing but her garter
and panties. While doing so, she uses the
heel of her stiletto to brutally attack Luigi (Ron Nummi), who is helpless
against the assault. Belvedere’s
performance here is many things: disturbing, terrifying, deranged; yet also
mildly erotic. Such are words that not only perfectly sum up the movie, but many
of the films produced in the giallo style of horror.
Filmed by legendary Italian low budget
director Sergio Martino, Craving Desire
was made in the 1990s, long past the golden age of the genre. Although more of an erotic horror/drama
hybrid than a pure giallo, it still contains enough hallmarks to somewhat
qualify as one. Overall, it is a truly
dark film that leaves viewers with a distinct sense of unease. For horror fans, this undercurrent of dread has
the potential to hook you up until the very final seconds.
The story of the film follows Luigi, a
man who seemingly has everything. He
lives in a beautiful apartment, has a gorgeous fiancée (even if she is a total
witch), and seems to have a fairly decent job. Yet it is clear that Luigi is simply unhappy in life. This all rapidly changes one day after a
funeral, when the beautiful Sonia shows up on his door step. They quickly jump
into bed and overnight Luigi’s existence becomes full of the excitement that he
so desperately craves. Yet as he
continues to spiral deeper and deeper into debauchery, his life begins to fray
before completely falling apart. Finally
hitting rock bottom, he tries to end things with Sonia, only to realize what a
true monster his lover is. He becomes
trapped in mortal peril, with no possible escape in sight. Thus, Luigi learns
the hard way an age old lesson: man should always be careful about what he
To start, credit must go where its due. Ron Nummi does his best with what’s given to
him, trying to make us like his character. Yet the truth is that Luigi comes across as a very flat, one dimensional
guy who has a knack for poor decision making. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that he simply is an idiot who
falls into a trap of his own construction. To sum up, he is too much of a dirty minded moron to really feel pity
As that stands, the real focus of the
film goes to Nummi’s lovely costar Vittoria Belvedere, and understandably so. Her character is not developed any better than
Luigi, yet she still does quite the exceptional job regardless. Belvedere portrays Sonia as some type of succubus;
although there is something clearly off about her, she radiates a sexuality
that is both mystifying and alluring. She is like a praying mantis whose entire
existence consists of feeding off a victim’s lust. The thing is, no lover can ever satisfy her
completely, even after they torpedo their entire life for her: a disappointed
Sonia is unfortunately also a very deadly
Sonia. Belvedere, who was only in her
twenty’s at the time, proves that she has some real acting potential. Sadly, she is the only real bright spot in a
film that screams “mediocre” right from the get-go.
From a creative and technical
standpoint, Craving Desire isn’t a
very good film. At times, it struggles just to be watchable,
let alone enjoyable. For one thing, the production value leaves a lot to be
desired, with abrupt transitions between scenes and a music score so bad it
makes the soundtrack’s of adult films seem like platinum sellers. (One scene
sums all this up perfectly: early in the film a boom mike can clearly be said hovering
directly above an actor’s head. It’s
pretty difficult for any movie to recover from a start like that). While other films can rely on a decent plot
to cover up such shortcomings, Craving
Desire sadly has no such luck. Evidently,
Martino and his producers realized all this and decided to follow an age old tradition
that has helped visual media thrive for generations. Vis-a-vis: sex and nudity. Lots of it.
Ms. Belvedere’s figure (“assets” is a
more accurate term) is often used in an attempt to distract viewers from the film’s
numerous flaws. (One memorable scene involves Belvedere and a female club goer
involved in a very “breezy” sequence that probably melted some of the cameras
on set). Although it’s unlikely that
many (male) viewers complained about such obvious gimmickry, it sadly makes the
movie devolve into pure T&A at times. In fact, it’s not really unfair to claim that most of the movie simply lurches
from one T&A moment to the next before it ultimately culminates in a rather
gruesome fashion. Hence, the results are
anything but impressive.
To further add to the list of negatives,
much of the content in Craving Desire
will shock and/or upset many viewers. Foremost on the list is that the fact that Sonia and Luigi, the film’s
lustful lovers, are cousins, or at least have been raised as such. Such gross revelations aside (there’s an even
worse one at the end), the violence can get shockingly brutal. The aforementioned heel scene is a prime
example of this, becoming very uncomfortable to sit through. As such, it’s strongly recommended that one check
out the movie’s content beforehand if they plan to watch it.
Desire was released by Mya Communication, the
notorious label that quickly squandered away its promise by releasing horrible
quality films ripped straight from old VHS. Thankfully, Craving Desire is
not such a feature. The audio is respectable
while the video quality, while not Blu-Ray, is still quite crisp. The special features are, well,
nonexistent. The DVD simply comes with a
language selection (English/Italian) and chapter viewer (which at only six, seems
a bit insufficient). There are no
subtitles, so whichever language one chooses (Nummi speaks English while
Belvedere only talks in Italian) some characters are going to get dubbed. Thankfully, the dubbing is, for the most part,
fairly well done and not too noticeable.
All in all, the film was not this
reviewer’s cup of tea. So why the
recommendation? Although falling short,
the movie does represent something that makes it special. It’s bad but different; a qualityoften
lacking these days. After all, horror (like
many Hollywood genres) has been recycling content for some time now, making the
genre grow somewhat stale of late. In today’s film market, originality is a
characteristic that is getting harder and harder to come by. Even when something novel does come along, it
is often rehashed so rapidly that within a year we have an entire trilogy, if
not franchise, of diminishing returns. All in all, it is not a pretty picture.
In a nutshell, Craving Desire is a movie that hints at a better place for horror
fans, pointing to a sub-genre that was sadly never really noticed in the United
States. Although giallos are the
forbearers of the American slasher film, they are also so much more. With a focus on eroticism and paranoia, they
are films that truly focus on the psychological aspect of fear. While it is true that their heyday has long
past, occasional films continue to be made today, often with respectable
At the very least, Craving Desire can be viewed as a kinky date movie for Halloween. But
even more so, the film can be regarded as the doorman to the giallo genre. If one can sit through the movie, and
actually enjoy it, then they might want to consider giving other (and better
made) giallos a chance. Odds are they
are the missing link that your horror collection has been waiting for.
witty, spooky and fabulously atmospheric comedy-thriller, The Phantom Light was
an early feature from British film legend Michael Powell. With leading roles
for the multi-talented Binnie Hale and endlessly popular character player
Gordon Harker, this classic Gainsborough feature remains a wonderful piece of
from Evadne Price and Joan Roy Byford's play, The Haunted light, this
delightful British thriller wastes little time and begins with the strange
murder of a lighthouse keeper. Since his death, the area (an unspecified Welsh
coast), has suffered a number of shipwrecks due to a phantom light or indeed a
failing light from the North Stack Lighthouse. A female detective in the
shapely form of Alice Bright (Binnie Hale) unites with new lighthouse keeper Sam
Higgins (Gordon Harker) and a navy officer Jim Pearce (Ian Hunter) in order to
solve the mystery. Directed with flare and confidence by Michael Powell, The
Phantom Light is a superior entry among the quota-quickie melodramas that were
saturating the British film market at the time.
Phantom Light was one of seven films released by Michael Powell in 1935 and was
essentially a star vehicle for the Cockney comedian Gordon Harker. The film
retains a great atmosphere with plenty of storm-tossed coastal action provided
by a combination of stock footage, fine model work and superb studio sets. For Michael Powell, it is an early exercise
into a pre-modern Britain that still continues on its isles and rocky locales
and would become a feature of his later films.
cleverly uses his low budget and without straying too far from the London studios
of Gainsborough Pictures. He successfully sells us his imaginary Wales from one
railway station, a pub set and a couple of process shots. A fun script,
enjoyable performances, and its sheer entertainment value bring all elements
together rather nicely throughout its 73 minutes.
DVD works very well, with film elements both clean and vibrant. Yes, there are
a few minor scratches here and there, but for the best part it does little to
disappoint or become an overwhelming hindrance. It has to be remembered, this
charming low budget film is now eighty years old. Audio is clear and crisp and
the film is presented correctly in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The DVD
also features a nice stills gallery (approx. 40 images) containing photos,
press book ads and even a cigarette card featuring the film, another lost
treasure of cinema’s past.
Syndrome comes through again with this Blu-Ray double feature release that combines
a 1970s Euro-Trash vampire movie and a really obscure 1970s British-made stab
at a creepy plantation gothic. I wish more video companies would follow this
template for films of this type and vintage, thus giving a new audience a
chance to see these often overlooked bits of genre history.
behind the title Crypt of the Living Dead is the public domain video standard
Hannah, Queen of the Vampires. Until now I had managed to never see this feature
because every time I tried, the print available was nearly unwatchable. Luckily
VS seems to have improved wonderfully on past transfers. Mechanical engineer
Chris Bolton (genre regular Andrew Prine) travels to a Turkish locale know to
its inhabitants as "Vampire Island" in response to his archaeologist
father's death. When he arrives to take care of his father's remains, he is
taken to the body which is still lying crushed under the heavy stone coffin
that supposedly killed him in an - accident! Of course, we know his death was
no accident because the film showed us in a prologue that it was actually Mark
Damon's character Peter that strangled the man and then deliberately crushed
his body to hide the crime. It appears that Peter has completely bought into
the island legend and mythical history about the tomb being that of Hannah, the
wife of the 13th-century French King Louis VII. The tale insists that the tomb
that 'fell' onto the archeologist actually belongs to this Queen and that she
was a vampire. The legend states that Louis was too captivated by the vampire
monster's beauty to have her killed so he had her sealed alive in a stone tomb
- possibly this one. Chris dismisses this silly superstition and sets about building
a contraption to raise the coffin off of his dead father. Peter helps the grief-stricken
man in his efforts, enlisting some locals for muscle but these islanders baulk
when it becomes clear that this thing might be the legendary tomb of the
vampire queen. Things get worse when they remove the lid to make the task
easier and discover a perfectly preserved woman inside! Oh, my. Of course, this
is Hannah played by the lovely Spanish actress Teresa Gimpera, and she soon wakes
from her several hundred years long snooze to wreak havoc on the islander with
the help of a hideous, beastly 'wild man' servant (Ihshan Gedik) who gets his
kicks playing around with decapitated heads. This section of the film is done
with some nice style and a good handle on how to use a low budget wisely. We
see Hannah transforming into a green mist, floating out of her coffin and
changing into a wolf as part of her horrific attacks. Adding to the
complications Chris gets romantically involved with Peter's sister Mary (the
wonderful Patty Shepard) who teaches school on the island. By this time Peter
is completely under Hannah's influence, helping her in her activities and Chris
wants to get his lady love off the island and away from her increasingly crazed
brother. The story then becomes a contest between the engineer and Peter for
the life of Mary leading to a dark finale.
Queen of the Vampires is often derided as a cut-rate vampire film but now that
I've finally seen it I have to slightly disagree. While it is not a great genre
film, it has several points in its favor as a better than 'bad' effort. First,
its island locations (shot in Turkey) are very nice adding immeasurably to the
atmosphere and creep factor. Also, the actors take the proceedings seriously,
giving the often sub-par dialog more gravitas than it should have. Another good
point is that the film's score is unexpectedly quite good,adding a lot to the
dark proceedings and never feeling out of place. The vampiric sequences are
well done and memorable, making the supernatural horror elements feel more
effective than I expected them to be with Hannah herself posing a striking figure
as the silent vampire Queen preying on poor islanders. The film has some
missteps with the most serious being that Peter's evil nature should not have
been revealed at the beginning of the movie so that more suspense could be
generated as things ramp up.
Syndrome's Blu-ray presents the U.S. theatrical version of the film restored in
2k from a newly-discovered 35mm negative and it looks very good for such a
neglected title. The film looks its age but the colors are vivid with good
detail even in darker scenes. The soundtrack is the mono English version fans
are familiar with but probably sounding much better than past releases. I doubt
this film has ever looked or sounded better on video and this is the best way
to evaluate it or reevaluate it if your impressions of it were colored by bad
transfers from the past.
South African made 1973 film House of the Living Dead (AKA Curse of the Dead) is on this Blu-ray more
as an extra than a full blooded second feature. The story takes place in the
late 1800's in the Cape Colony of South Africa where an aristocratic English family
own and run a large plantation farm. The family matriarch Lady Brattling
(Margaret Inglis) is unhappy to learn that her son Michael’s lovely fiancée
Mary (Shirley Anne Field) is about to arrive with her chaperone Dr. Collinson
(David Oxley). Lady Brattling has advised against bringing outsiders to the
plantation because of the unfortunate presence of her other son Breck (Mark
Burns, playing both brothers) who seems to be deformed although we can't really
tell since he covers his face in public. Breck hides away in his laboratory
room conducting strange experiments based on a theory about capturing living
souls through blood transfusion - paging Dr. Moreau! We see his tortuous
experiments on a baboon he has captured in the jungle and it's clear his work
is pretty unhinged. Lady Brattling tries to stop the young girl from arriving,
believing that her family has a history of inescapable madness and that any
outsiders will be in mortal danger. Of course, soon after Mary settles in to
the big house Breck starts taking in unwilling humans for his experiments and
things escalate out of control even as some of the deaths are attributed to
voodoo curses, which just adds to the confusion. The movie has a nice twist at
the end but by the time you get there it is more of a curious moment than a
surprise that makes the story resonate.
in 1973, House of the Living Dead didn’t play in the states until years later
and then only on the drive-in circuit so chances are good that this movie has
been under the radar of most genre fans until now. I know I had never heard of
it until I explored this release and after enjoying Hannah I was hoping for
another little gem. Sadly, although the film’s production values are pretty
high and the cast does a solid job overall, the film is fairly dull. It starts
well leading with plantation mystery and the ending is lively enough but the
middle is a dead weight. This section of the movie just plods along with little
energy often seeming to meander around to the point where I began to forget
what was going on earlier. If I had to guess I suspect that the producers were
trying to give this the look of the Hammer Studio gothics of the 1960's. I will
admit that I enjoyed watching the beautiful Shirley Anne Field work her way
through the mystery hidden in the large house but she is really just required
to scream a lot and then look pensive before screaming some more. If the film
weren't so plodding it might be worth seeking out but that slow middle hour is
deadly. This one is at best a one time watch for the Gothicly curious but bring
some caffeine for the ride.
Syndrome's Blu-ray presents the film sourced from a slightly scuffed up 35mm
print and in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio - it looks pretty muddy in the
darker scenes. Colors are soft with little detail except in bright sequences
and a sometimes distracting amount of grain throughout. The soundtrack is fine
with more detail in the design of the creaks of the old house than I expected. Vinegar
Syndrome has included a DVD of both films in the package using the same masters
found on the Blu-ray and they even put Crypt of the Living Dead extras
(trailer; alternate title sequence) on it as well.
Chain of Events 1958 Region 2 DVD Review:
Directed by Gerald Thomas, Starring
Kenneth Griffith, Susan Shaw, Dermot Walsh, Freddie Mills and Joan Hickson.
Released November 2nd 2015
taut 1958 crime melodrama, Chain of Events features noted actor and film-maker
Kenneth Griffith as a bank clerk whose attempt to dodge a fare has devastating
consequences; a powerful cast includes Rank "Charm School" starlet
Susan Shaw and future Richard the Lionheart lead Dermot Walsh. Chain of Events is
also directed in sharp, pacey style by the ‘Carry On’ legend Gerald Thomas.
curiously, Chain of Events was adapted from a radio play written by the late Australian
character actor Leo McKern. John Clarke (Kenneth Griffith), an uninspiring sort
of gentleman, one day boards a bus on his way home from work and foolishly
“forgets” to pay his fare. He is caught by an inspector, but instead of owning
up to it, gives the name and address of one of the bank's clients and thereby
setting in motion a violent chain of events involving blackmail, robbery and
Chain of Events was very much a B movie feature, the film stands firmly, and
really works exceptionally well on its own merits. Both Dermot Walsh as
newspaper reporter Quinn and the beautiful Susan Shaw as his girlfriend Jill
light up the screen. The narrative twists and turns rather intelligently, and by
the end of its 60 minute duration you are left somewhat confused, not by the
plot, but how everything was condensed into such a short running time. Of
course, as a result the film moves at a frantic pace, which is good, as it
never allows time for it to run into tedium or endless meters of tiresome
Region 2 DVD delivers a beautiful, brand-new transfer from the original film
elements and presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Detail is sharp throughout
with nice deep blacks and minimal signs of dirt or damage. Audio comes in the
way of a nice clear mono track. Special features pinclude an image gallery and original
Pressbook material. Overall, a nice smooth way to kick back and take an hour
from your life…
Referring to the 1955 film "Man With the Gun" as a routine Western might not sound like an enthusiastic recommendation. However, because the 1950s was such a fertile time for fine movies representing this genre, "routine" can be taken as praise. The film follows many of the standard story elements that were popular in horse operas of this era: a stalwart, mysterious loner with a shady past who takes on the forces of evil; a good-hearted "bad girl"; a larger-than-life villain and a town with a population of timid, helpless men who must rely on the stranger to save them from being exploited and cheated. Robert Mitchum, then an up-and-coming star, plays Clint Tollinger, a drifter with a reputation for taming wild towns. The town he rides into has a trouble with a capital "T". Seems one Dade Holman (Joe Barry) is the standard villain in a Western piece: he's been flexing his considerable financial resources by buying up all the surrounding land and using paid gun hands to terrorize or kill anyone who won't cede their property rights to him. Tollinger drifts into town to find that his reputation precedes him. He is hired by the local council to thwart Holman's thugs, who have also been disrupting the peace. Tollinger agrees as long as he has complete control over the methods he employs and that he is temporarily deputized, as well. He finds the local sheriff to be an aged, fragile man Lee Simms (Henry Hull), who is more of a figurehead than a respected lawman. Tollinger quickly reverses roles and becomes the central law officer in town, with Simms taking on the role of his deputy. It doesn't take long for Holman's gunmen to test his mettle. Tollinger proves to be adept at protecting himself, consisting outdrawing his adversaries and killing them even when they outnumber him. He also enforces a "no guns in town" rule and a curfew as well. Before long, the businessmen are complaining that now things are too peaceful and their businesses are suffering. Tollinger also interacts with a young couple who are engaged to marry: lovely Stella Atkins (Karen Sharpe) and her headstrong fiancee Jeff Castle (John Lupton) who continues to defy Holman's men and who has been seriously wounded for his refusal to cede a parcel of land Holman wants. Tollinger takes a liking to the couple, though rumors begin to swirl that Stella is more in love with him than she is with Jeff. Tollinger also encounters his estranged wife Nelly (Jan Sterling), who is running the local bordello/dance hall. The two are not happy to see each other and when Nelly reveals a shocking secret about their daughter, the enraged Tollinger goes on a rampage that terrorizes the town.
"Man With the Gun" suffers from a bland, uninspired title but the film itself is quite engaging. Mitchum looks terrific in the part, strutting about town ramrod straight and looking handsome even when embroiled in shoot-outs. Even this early in his career there was evidence of a superstar in the making. The supporting cast is also very good, especially some wonderful character actors such as Henry Hull, Emile Meyer, James Westerfield and other familiar faces of the era (including a young Claude Akins). The film, ably directed by Richard Wilson, is certainly no classic but on the other hand, it is consistently engrossing and highly entertaining. Despite the considerable talent involved, it's Mitchum's show throughout- and he delivers the goods.
The Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber does justice to the crisp B&W cinematography. The edition features the original trailer and bonus trailers for other Mitchum Westerns from the company, The Wonderful Country and Young Billy Young.
Explosive Media is a German-based video label that releases superb special Blu-ray editions of films that retro movie lovers will salivate over. The only problem is that, due to licensing issues, their products are primarily available through Amazon Germany, although some imports of the titles can occasionally be found on eBay and other Amazon sites. Among their latest releases is Roger Corman's 1960 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher". (Bizarrely, the film was marketed under this title in some territories and simply "House of Usher" in others. Go figure.) The film was a milestone in Corman's career. It not only marked his first color, Cinemascope production but also allowed him to finally graduate from making ultra-cheap, B&W exploitation flicks. More importantly, the film marked his first collaboration with Vincent Price, with whom he would team for numerous other Poe adaptations. "House of Usher" also proved important for Corman because henceforth, he would be working with American International Pictures for many years to come. AIP was supportive of his creative ideas and gave him virtually complete artistic control over his productions. The end result was that Price gained iconic stature in the horror genre, AIP became a highly profitable studio and Corman gained acclaim and respect as a producer and director who worked incredibly fast and efficiently without sacrificing the quality of the films. ("Usher" was shot in only 15 days!) Along with way, the ties to Poe's original stories became quite flimsy, to say the least, but Corman always insisted on keeping them as period pieces and hired talented behind the scenes craftsmen to provide lush production values that masked to some degree the low budgets of the films.
"House of Usher" opens with a solitary man riding his horse through a barren, ominous landscape. (Corman actually utilized an area of the Hollywood hills where a devastating fire had recently swept the area.) He arrives at a mansion house shrouded in fog and mist (another ploy of Corman's that he would frequently use to disguise the fact that he was shooting on a rather small studio set.) The man is Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon), who has traveled a long distance to reunite with his fiancee, Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey). His arrival at the mansion is the stuff of horror movie cliches: a creepy butler refuses to let him in but Winthrop will have none of it. He insists on being announced to the mansion's reclusive owner, Roderick Usher (Vincent Price). Roderick is clearly annoyed by the presence of the interloper. He informs Winthrop that he is Madeline's older brother and has taken on the duties of being her caregiver because she is allegedly gravely ill and confined to her bed. Winthrop insists on seeing her. The tension between the two men is broken by Madeline's unexpected entrance into the room. She seems in desperate straits emotionally but does not appear to be physically ill. Winthrop soon finds that Roderick has been keeping her a virtual prisoner in the isolated Usher mansion. Alone and forgotten, Madeline seems eager to accept Winthrop's offer to take her from the premises back to Boston where he originally met her. Before he can do so, a series of eerie events intervenes and results in Madeline's apparent death by heart attack. Roderick, a distraught Winthrop and the butler, Bristol (Harry Ellerbe) preside over a short funeral service before Madeline's casket in entombed in the cellar along with those of previously-deceased members of the Usher family. Prior to departing, however, the heartbroken Winthrop learns that Madeline suffered from a rare disorder that put her in a trance-like sleep. He frantically runs to her tomb to find out that she had been buried alive. He rescues her and confronts Roderick who admits his despicable deed but justifies it by telling Winthrop that the Usher family has been cursed because of the inhumane acts the family members committed over generations. Even as the mansion house crumbles around them during a storm, Roderick says the best thing he and his sister can do is simply die so that they will not bring any more suffering into the world in the manner that their ancestors did. As the storm intensifies, the mansion literally begins to fall apart...and Winthrop finds himself in a race against time to rescue the woman he loves, even as a raging fire begins to engulf the house.
The Explosive Media Blu-ray edition boasts an outstanding transfer of this fine film, which features Price in top form and an impressive performance by Mark Damon in his first important role as a leading man. The production values are impressive, even though one cannot escape the obvious budget constraints. (The "mansion" is depicted through obvious matte paintings and miniatures.). There is also a good deal of legitimate suspense and fine supporting performances by both Myrna Fahey and Harry Ellerbe. Cinematographer Floyd Crosby makes the most of the widescreen, color format and Les Baxter, who would also collaborate with Corman on future productions, provides a fine score. Bonus extras include an extensive new video interview with Mark Damon, who won a Golden Globe as "Most Promising Newcomer" for his performance in the film. Damon looks back on the film with pride and delight. He also discusses his eventual retirement from acting and his new career as a top producer, a status he still enjoys today. Damon speaks very fondly of Vincent Price but drops a bit of bombshell by stating that Price, who had married three times and fathered children, was actually gay and, in fact, hit on him during the making of the film. Damon says that he politely rejected the overture and in the aggregate enjoyed working with and socializing with Price. (Price's daughter Victoria, recently confirmed her belief that her father was bi-sexual. Click here to read.) Other bonus extras include the original trailer, a wonderful gallery of stills and marketing materials and a German language collector's booklet. There is also a selection of trailers for other Explosive Media releases. Their titles are not easy to find in English language markets, but they are worth the effort to search them out.
A quartet of ageing gentlemen friends (Fred Astaire, John
Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Melvyn Douglas) meet up on a weekly basis in
the snow sprinkled town of Milburn, New England in order to exchange scary
stories. Self-dubbed ‘The Chowder Society’, they challenge one another to come
up with something truly unsettling. Good natured entertainment takes a sinister
turn when a dastardly secret that has lain dormant for more than 50 years rears
its terrifying head. Drawn helplessly from sweat-sodden nightmares into a living nightmare more frightening and deadly
than anything conjured up in their yarning sessions, the comrades’ collective
fate falls to the hands of a seemingly unstoppable entity hell bent on revenge.
But revenge for what? What could the
friends have possibly done all those years ago that was so terrible?
Now wait just a moment... Fred Astaire made a horror movie?! Indeed
he did. And a pretty decent one it is at that. As he had done for a number of
then-recent non-musical roles (among them The
Towering Inferno and A Purple Taxi),
the legendary song and dance performer shelved his top hat and tails and signed
up for this effective little terror tale of retribution from beyond the
In a review I pencilled some time ago I perhaps unfairly labelled
1981’s Ghost Story as
"average". However the passing of time has been very generous to the
film – either that or I'm going soft – for a handful of viewings in the
intervening years have gradually elevated it in my opinion. Though by no means
a top-ranking classic of horror cinema, I now readily acknowledge it as an efficient
little chiller that benefits hugely from the gravitas afforded it by its combined
star power. The four leads may not seem the likeliest of go-to names for a
director mounting a horror movie, but their united seasoned talent forges a
level of dramatic credibility that (almost) makes the fantastical elements of
the story feel plausible. A modern audience needs to be aware that these guys
were pretty big Hollywood players in their day; imagine the likes of Clooney,
Pitt, Cruise and Cage getting together for a spook show in 30 years’ time and
you'll get the measure of the men. Furthermore, and most pleasingly, what could
have been a wince-inducing exercise in cashing in on past glories is actually anything
but. For all except Houseman Ghost
Story would also be their final big screen appearance. A very worthy
epitaph it proved to be.
Clocking in at just shy of 111-minutes in length, the story does feel
a shade drawn out. But if its screenplay – fashioned by Lawrence D Cohen
(scripter on Brian DePalma's 1976 classic Carrie
and the respectable 2013 Kimberly Peirce remake) from a 1979 bestselling novel
by Peter Straub – is occasionally a tad ponderous, it at least never strays
from narrative relevance; it's certainly testament to the time invested in
establishing the diverse individual personalities of the characters portrayed
by Astaire, Houseman, Fairbanks Jr and Douglas that they are immediately identifiable
in their younger "flashback" incarnations (Tim Choate, Ken Olin, Kurt
Johnson and Mark Chamberlin, respectively). Meanwhile Craig Wasson gets to toy
with dual roles as Fairbanks Jr’s twin sons (and delivers a moment of frontal
nudity, something possibly less taboo – albeit still uncommon – today, but
extremely scarce in mainstream cinema back in 1981) and, also playing two
characters, Alice Krige brings to the show a performance that is excitingly
provocative and icily malevolent in equal measure.
Director John Irvine (The
Dogs of War) moulds some potently emotive imagery, abetted immensely by some
marvellously gruesome (and suitably squishy!) special effects and the lush – if
occasionally a tad overwrought – orchestral compositions of Philippe Sarde.
There's something curiously enticing about spectral fiction set
against crisp wintry snowscapes, intrinsically suggestive of the perfect winter
evening movie fare, inviting you to settle comfortably in front of the fire
with the lights out and a glass or three of port to hand; if that sounds like
an appealingly cosy scenario then you need look no further than Ghost Story for your viewing of choice.
USA release from Scream Factory.
The film arrives on both Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-Ray (for
the first time in the UK) from Second Sight. In North America, the Blu-ray is available with the same supplements on Region A Blu-ray through Scream Factory. The Blu-Ray delivers a very nice transfer of the 34-year-old film showing only negligible
traces of print damage – the odd blemish here, occasional vertical scratches
there – with the sometimes soft image being a faithful representation of the intended
aesthetic of the film. Supplements are exceedingly generous. Director John
Irvine provides an informative commentary to accompany the feature. There’s a
40-minute piece in which author Peter Straub talks at length about his writing
style and the novel on which the film is based. A trio of half-hour featurettes
comprise interviews with Alice Krige, scriptwriter Lawrence D Cohen, producer
Burt Weissbourd and matte photographer Bill Taylor (who discusses late
colleague Albert Whitlock’s impressive visual effects on the film). Rounding
all this off is an original release trailer, a TV and radio spot, plus a
slideshow (comprising an expansive collection of production stills that depict imagery
from in front of and behind the cameras, lobby cards, and artwork), which runs in
the company of selections from Philippe Sarde’s score.
Turner Classic Movies has released a major DVD boxed set that is comprised of the most complete collection ever assembled of James Dean's television appearances. Here is a list of the contents:
Before East Of Eden (1955), Rebel Without A Cause (1955) and Giant (1956) turned James Dean into an international icon, he honed his craft on television, appearing on such shows as Studio One, Lux Video Theater and Hallmark Hall of Fame—many broadcast live and thought to be lost. This is the most complete collection to date of Dean’s television legacy featuring 19 full episodes, 2 original commercials and 2 clips featuring Dean, all meticulously re-mastered for picture and sound quality from the best available sources.
This box set also includes a commemorative booklet featuring a comprehensive essay focusing on the actor’s personal life and television career, and featuring rare stills, episode credits and descriptions.
Bonus Material - The documentary Fairmount Today, exploring Dean’s hometown in Indiana - Episode introductions by James Dean’s cousin, Marcus Winslow, Jr., head of the Dean Estate - 3 photo galleries from world famous photographers Roy Schatt, Frank Worth and Sanford Roth - A video demonstration illustrating the restoration and preservation process
Episodes Family Theater: Hill Number One (1951) Trouble With Father: Jackie Knows All (1952) Westinghouse Studio One: 10,000 Horses Singing (1952) Lux Video Theater: The Foggy, Foggy Dew (1952) Westinghouse Studio One: John Drinkwater’s Abraham Lincoln (1952) Hallmark Hall Of Fame: Forgotten Children: A Historical Biography (1952) The Kate Smith Hour: The Hound Of Heaven (1953) Campbell Sound Stage: Something For An Empty Briefcase (1953) Westinghouse Studio One Summer Theater: Sentence Of Death (1953) Danger: Death Is My Neighbor (1953) The Big Story: Rex Newman (1953) Kraft Television Theatre: Keep Our Honor Bright (1953) Campbell Sound Stage: Life Sentence (1953) Kraft Television Theatre: A Long Time Till Dawn (1953) Armstrong’s Circle Theater: The Bells Of Cockaigne (1953) Robert Montgomery Presents: Harvest (1953) Philco Television Playhouse: Run Like A Thief (1954) Danger: Padlocks (1954) General Electric Theater: Sherwood Anderson’s I'm A Fool (1954) General Electric Theater: The Dark, Dark Hour (1954)
The documentary "Back in Time", which celebrates the legacy of the "Back to the Future" films is now on Blu-ray. Here is the description:
"The documentary film Back in Time is, at its heart, a
look at the very real impact the Back to the Future movies have had on our
culture. What was once a little idea that spawned a tightly-focused documentary
has grown into something truly amazing over two years of filming. Back in Time
is a cinematic monument to the vastness of the trilogy’s fandom. In addition to
the footage and interviews revolving around the time machine itself, the crew
found that simply by delving into the impact of the trilogy an epic journey
began to unfold before them. The crew captured countless hours of footage
during filming. From Steven Spielberg to Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, to the
Sheas and Hollers, and from James Tolkan and Lea Thompson to Christopher Lloyd
and Michael J. Fox, Back in Time features interview after interview that simply
must be seen."
moves at warp speed these days. Almost overnight, cutting-edge in arts
and technology becomes old-school.
seems like only yesterday that the Hong Kong movies of Jackie Chan and John Woo
were the big new flavor in action cinema, and laser disc was the medium of
choice for upscale home theater. In reality, it’s more like yesteryear,
and at that, nearly two decades of yesteryears.
many of today’s kids under 20 would you have to ask before you found one who’s
seen a Jackie Chan film? How many have even heard of laser disc, let
alone loaded one of those unwieldy LP-sized platters into an equally clunky
nostalgic if chilling thoughts occurred to me when, recently, I browsed through
an old issue of “Mystery Scene” magazine and came across a review I’d written
back in the day. The topic was Jackie Chan, and more specifically, the
availability of Jackie’s Hong Kong-made, martial-arts police movies on U.S.
digital home video. At the time I wrote the review in late 1998, laser
disc was already in defensive posture against the rapid growth of the more
affordable, more physically convenient DVD format. By the time it
appeared in print in 2000, DVD had taken over the digital market.
Shortly, it would supplant VHS as the dominant home-video product.
the review, I sorted out the Chan titles then on American DVD from those that
remained available domestically only on laser. Most of it is badly
outdated now. However, I believe that one observation remains true: on
authorized American VHS and DVD editions (and more recently, Blu-ray), you can
only find Jackie’s arguably best HK police caper, “Police Story 3,” directed by
Stanley Tong, in the dubbed, edited version released to U.S. theaters by
Miramax’s Dimension Films in 1996 as “Supercop.”
U.S. moviegoers, Dimension deleted some 10 minutes of the original HK version,
inserted spastic opening credits, replaced the original Cantonese voice track
with an English dub, and added new music tracks, including hip-hop in some
scenes and “Kung Fu Fighting” over the end blooper reel. “Kung Fu
Fighting” was an OK Tom Jones remake, not the vastly superior, wonderfully
cheesy 1974 Carl Douglas original.
few months after the theatrical release, “Supercop” moved to American VHS and
DVD on Buena Vista Home Entertainment, and to laser disc from the prestigious
Criterion Collection. Of them all, the only American edition that
included the original Cantonese soundtrack as an audio option, and the only one
that included the five scenes excised by Dimension, was the 1997 laser disc.
I noted in the “Mystery Scene” review, Jackie’s character in the movie was
Officer Kevin Chan of the Hong Kong Police Department (in the HK original, Chan
Ka-Kui), continued over from the first two “Police Story” films. Kevin is
teamed with a Mainland Chinese officer, Inspector Hannah (in the original
Cantonese track, Inspector Wah), to infiltrate an international drug
cartel led by kingpin Chaibat (Ken Tsang). To do so, they have to bust
Chaibat’s brother, Panther (Wah Yuen), out of a Chinese labor camp. Then,
accepted into the gang, they accompany the gangsters to Cambodia, where Chaibat
closes a heroin deal, and after that to Malaysia. In Kuala Lampur, the
kingpin intends to break his wife out of jail before the authorities can force
her to reveal the code to Chaibat’s offshore bank account.
is well matched with Michelle Yeoh (then billed as Michelle Khan) playing
Hannah, and Maggie Cheung as Kevin’s sweetheart May. Cheung’s character
was also carried over from the two prior movies. There’s a rather simplistic
but funny complication when May catches Kevin in Hannah’s company at a vacation
resort in Kuala Lampur. Not knowing that her boyfriend is on an
undercover assignment, she assumes he’s cheating on her. It’s the kind of
contrivance that dates back at least as far as silent movies, if not to
Shakespeare. But Cheung is cute, the physical comedy is well timed by
Tong, and the set-up isn’t much more primitive than the twists you’d see in a
2015 chick flick.
a truly awesome beauty, has wonderful comedy timing of her own, great rapport
with Jackie, fluid grace in the martial arts fights, and remarkable gumption in
doing many of her own stunts. In one wince-inducing outtake in the
blooper reel, Yeoh misses her grip as she drops onto a moving sports car,
tumbling backward onto the street as car and camera speed away. All of
the action in the movie has this visceral immediacy, which movies largely have
lost in the past decade with CGI effects and ADHD editing.
easy to guess why one scene from “Police Story 3” was removed in the editing as
potentially offensive for American audiences. A snickering Chinese punk
helps a couple of Caucasian teeny-boppers shoot up with heroin. One of
the girls dies -- offscreen -- from an overdose. Chaibat suggests that
the corpse be used to smuggle a cache of smack past customs. “Waste
utilization,” he cackles. Even without this callous bit, the American cut
retains enough gun mayhem and blood squibs to earn an “R” rating, a rarity in
the Chan movies tooled for the U.S. market, which typically earned the family
the Criterion laser disc, the five deleted scenes were added at the end of the
disc as a supplemental chapter, not re-integrated into the “Supercop”
cut. The laser disc also benefitted from appreciative back-sleeve notes
by film critic Dave Kehr. A 2009 DVD reissue under the Weinstein Brothers’
Dragon Dynasty label restored the Cantonese voice track as an audio option,
along with supplemental interviews, “making of” shorts, and an audio commentary
by a kung fu movie expert, but the deleted scenes remained MIA. Reviews
suggest that a more recent Blu-ray edition from Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
lacks any supplements, not even a Cantonese voice track.
for a full package, the obsessive collector may want to get the 2009 DVD and
the Criterion Collection laser disc (available cheap from online dealers),
assuming he has one of the antique players lying around. Another option
-- ordering the original “Police Story 3” on Blu-ray or DVD from import
dealers. Online marketing has made it tremendously easier for U.S.
collectors to obtain overseas videos today than 20 years ago.
If you're looking for the perfect holiday or birthday gift, Cinema Retro can tell you to get "Lost"-- as in "Space", that is. Check out this fantastic Blu-ray boxed set that contains every episode of the beloved Irwin Allen TV series and over 8 hours of bonus materials.
Here is the official product description from Fox:
Bring home the timeless journey of Irwin Allen’s LOST IN
SPACE! Follow the heart-racing, cliff-hanging adventures of John Robinson and
his family aboard the Jupiter 2, along with Robot B-9 and the delightfully
devious Dr. Zachary Smith. This massive 18-disc set contains all 83 episodes
remastered in high definition, and loads of exciting extras with recently
discovered content you won’t find anywhere else in the galaxy. It’s
out-of-this-world fun for everyone!
OVER 8 HOURS OF RARELY SEEN AND NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN EXTRAS
50th Anniversary Interviews with Original Series Cast
Original Cast Reunion Performance of Bill Mumy’s 1980
Unproduced Script, LOST IN SPACE: THE EPILOGUE
Vintage Versions of 4 Original Network Episodes (AS SEEN ON
AIR in the 1960s with Original TV Commercials and Bumpers)
1973 Animated Special
20th Anniversary Audio Interview with Lost in Space Series
Creator Irwin Allen
2 Full-Length Lost in Space Documentaries
Original Animated Series Concept Pitch Video
Unaired Series Pilot Episode: “No Place to Hide”
Original Network Commercials, Vintage Cast Interviews AND
MUCH, MUCH MORE!
Twilight Time has released Fox's 1970 box-office disaster The Only Game in Town as a Blu-ray limited edition (3,000 units). The film is primarily remembered for reasons its creators would never have desired. It was the last movie of legendary director George Stevens and represented his re-teaming with Elizabeth Taylor, with whom he had made two genuine classics: Giant and A Place in the Sun, both which featured two of her most acclaimed performances. In fact, by the time this movie went into production in 1970, Stevens' clout in Hollywood had been somewhat diminished by his obsessive quest to bring his dream project, The Greatest Story Ever Told to the screen. He finally succeeded in doing so in 1965, only to have the film become a politely-acclaimed epic that ended up losing United Artists a fortune. Nevertheless, in those days past reputations still helped keep older filmmakers in high regard, so Fox executives saw plenty of potential in the third teaming of Stevens and Elizabeth Taylor. To add additional boxoffice clout, the studio signed Warren Beatty as the male lead. Beatty had been kicking around the industry for a decade but had only recently become red-hot due to the success of Bonnie and Clyde. Beatty was so eager to work with Stevens that he passed on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, another Fox property that would have a considerably more positive fate.
The Only Game in Town was written as play by Frank D. Gilroy, who was riding a wave of acclaim for The Subject Was Roses. Fox was so eager to land the rights to the story that they paid a (then) astronomical $500,000 to Gilroy, even though the play had not yet been performed. Fox was in for a rude awakening. When the play opened on Broadway, it had a very abbreviated run and closed shortly thereafter, having been deemed a major flop. Left with a costly investment, Fox felt the same fate might not befall the screen version, given the involvement of Stevens, Taylor and Beatty. However, as with any project involving La Liz, the studio found itself being held hostage to her costly demands. Although the story is set entirely in Las Vegas, Taylor insisted that it be shot in France (!) where hubby Richard Burton was filming Staircase, a movie that was set in London. Go figure. It appears the Burtons had a fetish for demanding that movies be shot in places other than their actual locations. Thus, what should have been a modestly-budgeted romance with only two major characters (there are only four actors credited for the entire movie) ballooned into an $11 million production, with much of the cost going into costly production design in order to recreate "Vegas" in France. This was achieved in a fairly unconvincing manner. Remember those old B&W movies in which someone's arrival in Paris is indicated by the fact that the Eiffel Tower (usually a matte painting) is directly visible from the window or balcony? Well, the same principal applies here. Liz lives in an apartment on the outskirts of the Strip but the casinos are glaringly visible over the sand dunes from her window. However, the effect is not even remotely convincing. The garish still life suggests anything other than a bustling tourist center. For understandable reasons (Liz was a few thousand miles away from the real Vegas), no traffic or people can be seen on "The Strip". Thus, the backdrop takes on an eerie air as though it is an effect from a long lost episode of The Twilight Zone.
The story opens with Fran Walker (Taylor), a chorus girl in a big casino stage extravaganza calling it quits for the night. (Critics cruelly noted at the time how unsuitably cast Taylor was for the role of a chorus dancer. Although she was only 37 years old at the time, she seemed far older. Director Stevens tries to deal with this challenge by confining scenes of Fran at work to one "blink-and-you-miss" intense closeup of Liz bopping up and down a bit, all too apparently not in the presence of any of the "real" dancers shown in the establishing shot.) Seemingly bored and despondent, Fran stops into a local gin mill near the Strip to have nightcap. The joint features a tuxedo-clad pianist who warbles for the sparse crowd in between making cynical jokes and comments. He's Joe Grady (Beatty), a handsome hunk who immediately meets cute with Fran. Before you can say "Dickie Burton", the two of them are canoodling under the covers at Fran's apartment (with sleep being impossible, given the blinding lights from the garish phony Vegas set outside her window.) The script goes nowhere fast with Fran and Joe bickering, making up, bickering again... Fran confesses she is the mistress of a wealthy business executive who assures her he is leaving his wife to marry her. Joe cautions her that she has fallen for the oldest con game practiced by cheating husbands and her assurances that she believes in the man's integrity seem increasingly shaky. However, just when Fran and Joe are about to set up house together, Fran's lover, Lockwood (Broadway actor Charles Braswell) turns up unexpectedly and -dammit all- he turns out to have been a man of his word. He wants to marry Fran immediately and take her away from Vegas for a globe-trotting life of luxury. Trouble is, Fran is now smitten by Joe. Who will she choose? The uber-successful businessman or the down-and-out lounge singer? Joe has other problems beyond his finances. He's a compulsive gambler who squanders away his savings every time he manages to put a little aside. In fact, the sequences with Beatty sans Liz (some of which were actually shot in Vegas) are the best in the film, as we see Joe constantly weaken in his vow to stay away from the craps tables. The scenes of him blowing his hard earned money on rolls of the dice are emotionally effective and, at times, cringe-inducing. What doesn't add up is why the charismatic Joe would be so smitten by Fran. Granted, she looks like Elizabeth Taylor, but she's a moody, whining, generally unhappy person who spends most of her time kvetching about every aspect of her life. Although essentially miscast, Taylor plays the role as effectively as one could hope. However, the generally glamorous Liz is attired in array of bland costumes that makes her look uncharacteristically dowdy. It's Beatty who surprises. He's long been one of the least interesting screen presences among iconic leading men and- with a few notable exceptions- he generally delivers performances that are so low-key they border on being boring. However, as Joe Grady, he's more lively than usual and he displays the charisma that would attract any sane, heterosexual woman. (There is one scene, however, that is a bit too cute: love-struck Joe warbling Some Enchanted Evening in the corridor outside of Fran's apartment.)
The Only Game in Town is a bizarre film and is compromised by the fact that the two lead characters have a relationship that never rings true to the viewer. In her Oscar winning performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Taylor was able to actually play an every day person in a believable manner. Martha, the protagonist of that film, may have been a human spitfire, constantly insulting and berating her long-suffering husband George, but she had charisma and was a sexual dynamo. In George Stevens' film, we are too aware of the fact that we are watching a movie star trying desperately to play an ordinary woman. The ploy simply doesn't work. The fact that the movie lacks any interesting supporting characters (even Braswell is bland and boring) gives the entire production a claustrophobic feeling. The score by Maurice Jarre, certainly one of the great composers, also feels out of place here with inappropriate cues coming at inappropriate times. In the wake of the film's poor box-office performance, Beatty emerged unscathed and went on to become an Oscar-winning director. Taylor, however, lumbered through a number of other major studio productions, all of which flopped. It was the end of her reign as a boxoffice draw.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray features a very nice transfer (though some artifacts are noticeable here and there), an isolated score track and the original trailer. It is region-free and can play on any international system. Julie Kirgo provides the usual insightful background notes in an illustrated collector's booklet. The movie is not quite as bad as critics indicated at the time of its initial release but it falls far short of its potential, given the talent involved. Its sad legacy is, ironically, the prime reason we can recommend retro movie lovers to check it out and form their own conclusions.